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Trying To Magic Away The Patrick Marleau Contract

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People have suggested a lot of things for getting out from under his cap hit. Would they work?

Ottawa Senators v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Patrick Marleau, left wing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, is a very likeable and admirable guy. By all accounts, he’s a father figure in the Leafs’ locker room. His career has been extremely impressive and, were he to win a Cup, he would have an outside chance at making the Hockey Hall of Fame. Let’s hope he does it.

Unfortunately, though, Father Time is undefeated, and while Patrick Marleau has done as much as any athlete can to ward it off, it has taken its toll on the 39-year-old. He’s still a decent NHL player, and might still hit 40 points this season, but his play has clearly fallen off; if he does fall short of 40, it’ll be his lowest total in a full year since he was a rookie. His on-ice shot and goal numbers have lagged behind his teammates, and he’s probably the Leafs’ third-best LW at this point.

None of this is surprising, and it wouldn’t be an especially big deal, except he has the third-biggest cap hit on the team, at $6.25M. He also has another year left on his deal, going into a year where the Leafs are in a boa constrictor-squeeze from the salary cap and a year where he will be 40. This has led to a lot of fans coming up with varying convoluted schemes for getting rid of his cap hit.

So let’s look at them.

Marleau’s Contract

On July 2nd, 2017, a couple of months before his 36th birthday, Patrick Marleau signed a three-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The money on the deal is front-loaded, and also has heavy signing bonuses. Signing bonuses mean that a lot of the money in this deal is payable on July 1st of each year in a lump sum, rather than as ordinary player salary every two weeks throughout the season.

After this season ends, there will remain $4.25M to be paid on the contract. $3M will be in a signing bonus on July 1st, 2019, after which Marleau will only be owed $1.25M in real dollars for the remainder of the year—a sharp contrast from his cap hit, which is of course still $6.25M.

The deal has a full no-movement clause in all three years. [Pause] The deal has a full no-movement clause in all three years. This means that Marleau cannot be traded to any other NHL team without his consent, nor can he be placed on waivers.

Here are the many ideas I’ve heard for how people want to dispose of that cap hit.

We Could Trade Him

Marleau has a complete no-movement clause. This means he has absolute veto power over any trade. By every account he is happy to be here, he has a young family, and he really wants to win a Cup, which the Leafs are a decent threat to do. Given that he got a full no movement clause with no exceptions, I would bet on him using it.

Say Marleau were to waive to go to another contender? It isn’t clear any other contender would want him at his current cap hit—which to be honest is about $4M in excess of his on-ice value at this point—because they all need to spend their money more carefully than that. The San Jose Sharks, Marleau’s original team, are still genuine contenders in the Western Conference and they’re likely going to spend their money on Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, and possibly Joe Thornton.

I can’t read minds, and it is possible Marleau is in fact willing to be traded to just about anywhere. But that doesn’t sound likely to me.

We Could Buy Out His Contract

We could, but it doesn’t do anything for us on the cap hit.

Because Patrick Marleau signed a multi-year contract after he turned 35, the buyout does not affect the cap hit. It impacts the actual dollars paid (which is why the Senators bought out the comically dumb Alexandre Burrows deal to save a bit of money) but the cap hit continues on for the team that bought him out as if he had played anyway.

We Could Trade Him To Another Team And They Could Buy Him Out

Well, first he has to waive his no-move clause. I’m not sure he would, but people like the idea of Marleau doing a “Brooks Orpik”, where someone else does our dirty work by buying out the contract for us, and then we sign him back for cheap to come contend again. So could we pull that off?

The thinking on this is that a team that doesn’t care about a giant cap hit—think Arizona or Ottawa—could take Marleau’s contract and buy it out for us. The problem is that the teams who don’t care about cap hits—because they never spend to the cap— usually do care about real money. (The lack of real money is why they don’t spend to the cap.) Signing bonuses are not affected by buyouts; they have to be paid anyway and the money cannot be reduced. You will recall that Marleau has a $3,000,000 cheque coming his way on July 1st, 2019.

The first buy-out period, not coincidentally, ends on June 30th. Meaning any team who bought him out would be on the hook for the signing bonus. You would need a team that had both the real dollars to spend and the cap space, and while that’s not impossible (the New York Rangers might be in this position), they would naturally command a hefty price for the privilege. It’s worth noting, also, that even relatively free-spending ownership might not be keen on buying draft picks for several million dollars. That said, of all of these ideas, I think the question with this is less “is it possible” and more “do we want to pay what it would cost?”

We Could Pay The Signing Bonus And Then Trade Him To Someone Who Would Buy Him Out

No, we can’t. Remember:

June 30th: First buy-out window ends

July 1st: Signing bonuses get paid

Now, you might have noticed, I said first buy-out period ends. There is a second buy-out period that can be opened up for teams that have salary arbitration hearings. We’re not going to worry about why, though, because you can’t use the second buy-out period to buy out a player who wasn’t on your team’s reserve list as of the previous trade deadline. (See section 11.18 of the CBA.)

So there’s no way for us to both pay the signing bonus and then trade Marleau in time for someone to use the second buy-out window on him.

He Could Retire And We Could Trade His Cap Hit

He could, but...

If a player signs a multi-year contract when he is age 35 or older, that deal counts against the team’s salary cap whether he is playing or not. See article 50.2(c)(iv) of the CBA. Now, if he does, his cap hit becomes just an empty one, with no money owed.

Pavel Datsyuk left for the KHL after the 2016 season, leaving the Red Wings with a giant cap hit and no actual money owed. When you say “giant cap hit and no actual money” three times into a mirror, the Arizona Coyotes appear behind you, and so it was. The Coyotes took on the weightless cap hit in exchange for the opportunity to move up in the 2016 draft and pick Jakob Chychrun 16th overall.

Is Patrick Marleau liable to go over to the KHL for a year to save us the inconvenience of his unwieldy contract? Well, since he was 16, the only two leagues he’s played in are the WHL and the NHL. He didn’t even go to Europe during the lockout, unlike some of his teammates, and again he has a family as well as a desire to win a Cup. You cannot win the Stanley Cup in Russia, and never will be able to unless Vladimir Putin successfully sabotages the American democratic process, and we all know that’s crazy talk.

Is Patrick Marleau done entirely? I don’t think he thinks he is, and again, he sure did like that third year. He’s still an NHLer who’s playing every game.

He could nonetheless say he’s had enough and call it a day. And you can hope he does! But I think saying it’s likely is letting the wish be father to the thought.

We Could Trade Him To Someone After We Pay His Signing Bonus, And Then They Could Retain Salary And Trade Him Back

I will say I actually think this one is kind of clever. Sadly the NHL also thought so and they specifically made it illegal. See 50.5(e)(iii)(c)(4), or honestly, just take my word for it.

We Could Put Him On Long Term Injured Reserve

Leaf fans are pretty familiar with long-term injured reserve, or LTIR, by now, since we’ve used it with regard to the Nathan Horton contract, which was in turn acquired as we tried to get away from the disastrous David Clarkson deal. LTIR is an extremely complicated thing and—

[lowers voice]

I am honest to God convinced the NHL has changed significant details of it as it has gone along.

[clears throat]

Anyway, if you want to learn more about the finer points of LTIR and/or cure your insomnia, I recommend this FAQ from the good people at Cap Friendly. The short version is that Long Term Injured Reserve can help teams whose players are seriously injured by giving them some ability to exceed the upper limit. It is not a cure all and it is not the same as free cap space, but it can be helpful.

LTIR is, to some fans, a bit of a joke in that they believe pretty much any team can put anyone on LTIR if they want to. The most infamous case of this was Marian Hossa, who purportedly developed a serious skin condition at a convenient time for the Hawks and also right as his real salary dropped. (The Hawks later dealt away the leftover cap hit, which was much higher than the remaining dollar salary owing. You’ll never guess which team they traded it to!)

Patrick Marleau has not missed an NHL game in literally ten years and famously takes excellent care of himself, so for him to immediately develop a career-ending ailment right when the Leafs need his cap hit to go away would be, uh, a little suspicious. It’s not impossible they would get away with it, but I would be astonished if the league wouldn’t investigate.

More seriously, we have to ask why Marleau is going along with this idea. Marian Hossa’s deal was pretty clearly designed for him to retire out of back when it was legal to sign players to 12-year back-diving contracts. Marleau picked a three-year deal over the two-year one he could have gotten elsewhere, and one of the league’s greatest iron men probably does want to play. Some people have noted the signing bonuses and the front-loaded structure of the contract as evidence that Marleau wasn’t supposed to play Year 3, but those things are popular simply because money now is better than money later. Marleau had signing bonuses every year of his contract, not just the third one; so do Auston Matthews and John Tavares, and their contracts are front-loaded too.

Is this impossible? No. Does any element of it seem likely? Not really.

We Could Terminate Him For Material Breach

This is getting into the deep end of the swimming pool, so I won’t spend too much time on it. But let us say Patrick Marleau fails to report to training camp, and the Leafs terminate his contract for material breach because he didn’t show up.

I actually don’t know if this would eliminate the cap hit! The language of 50.2(c)(iv) suggests it might not. But this would presumably only happen as part of a scheme between Marleau and the Leafs to circumvent the salary cap, and if the league doesn’t look at this they might as well fold. The relevant sections are 26.2 and 26.3, but I feel like the problems should be pretty obvious.

We might also wonder whether Patrick Marleau would prefer to make $1.25M on a contender or to take a handshake deal going into an illegal side agreement, and this starts to feel kind of silly.

Conclusion

The thing about getting out of Marleau’s contract is that all of the means by which we would do so require Patrick Marleau to go along with it. He controls his fate. Further to that: he’s still an NHL player, even if an overpaid one; he seems to like where he is; he wants to win the Cup. Does he seem to you like he’s ready to leave?

This is an open question. But I can’t point to any evidence that he is. And if he isn’t?

Unless the Leafs find a buyer willing to pay him a whack of a signing bonus in a buyout—and the price for that is going to be steep from Toronto—it’s hard to see any scenario he’d want to go along with. In looking at these things, it’s worth asking not just “can I see a crazy scenario where this is possible” and start thinking “do I have any evidence why this is likely?” And you’re going to find pretty quickly that the most likely option is simply that Patrick Marleau will play the final year of his deal in Toronto.

Unless...

The Matrick Parleau

Patrick Marleau, we are sorry to say, has disappeared. He may have been abducted by aliens. It was especially tragic as it happened right after he picked up his signing bonus.

Luckily, the Leafs have signed a new free agent at $925,000 to shore up their left wing depth.

Good work everyone. Problem solved.


Updated May 18, 2019 — two new pieces of information have come to light. First, that Marleau’s signing bonus is not all paid on July 1, as is common.

4. Odd quirk in Patrick Marleau’s contract: his signing bonus is paid in two instalments, one in July, one in December. Remember, he controls his future, but that adds a wrinkle to any potential move.

On the May 16 edition of the Bobcast, Bob McKenzie reported a listener-supplied correction on a technicality for Marleau’s contract. While Marleau has a full no-move clause, and cannot be forced to be demoted to the AHL, he could consent to it. However, only $100,000 of his contract would come off the books:

(5) All Player Salary and Bonuses earned in a League Year by a Player who is in the second or later year of a multi-year which was signed when the Player was age 35 or older (as of June 30 prior to the League Year in which the SPC is to be effective), but which Player is not on the Club’s Active Roster, Injured Reserve, Injured Non-Roster or Non-Roster, and regardless of whether, or where, the Player is playing, except to the extent the Player is playing under his SPC in the minor leagues, in which case only the Player Salary and Bonuses in excess of $100,000 shall count towards the calculation of Averaged Club Salary

Article 50.5 (d) (i) (B) of the CBA.