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Patrick Marleau wants to go home

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Now it’s not a clever scheme the Leafs need to clear that cap space, it’s just a clever trade.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When AT Fulemin wrote his article debunking all of the plots, plans and schemes to Magic Away the Patrick Marleau contract, he prefaced it with this:

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.

It now seems that things have changed, and that while Marleau isn’t willing to be traded just anywhere he will waive his no-movement clause for a team closer to home.

Nick Kypreos detailed his understanding of the situation on the broadcast of the Boston-St. Louis Game 3 on Saturday night:

“It sounds like Marleau and the Leafs are set to part ways,” said Nick Kypreos during the ‘Headlines’ segment of Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. “The family is going to move back to San Jose. Patrick Marleau has made it clear to the Toronto Maple Leafs that he’d like to get closer to his family once again, which means moving to the west coast area.”

There are a few teams who are supposedly in the conversation to land the veteran forward, including one Californian outfit.

“Some of the teams that are in the mix – I’m told – are Arizona, Colorado [and] the Los Angeles Kings,” Kypreos continued. “Now everybody’s wondering ‘why the Los Angeles Kings?’ … There’d be no question that a type of deal that would have to involve taking on that contract would be, maybe, taking on a current roster player that the Leafs would have to give up, and maybe even retaining as much as maybe $1.5, $2 million.”

We first heard about this on Friday, when Pierre LeBrun reported that the Leafs and the Kings were talking. Since that report, LeBrun and Bob McKenzie appeared on TSN and said that they’re still talking, but no deal is imminent.

That take was mildly contradicted by Helene Elliott of the LA Times:

Meanwhile, LeBrun confirmed the Arizona angle:

But if the motivation here is for Marleau himself to play in the NHL next season, just somewhere closer to his family in San Jose, then the picture is a little different than it was when we all believed he would not waive his no-move clause. This isn’t the Leafs just wanting to get out from under a big cap hit for a player who is now a fourth-liner who can only add value on the power play.

The Contract

If Marleau is traded before July 1, the receiving team is on the hook for $6.250 million in cap space and $4.250 million in salary. If they do the deal after July 1, that amount does not reduce by the full signing bonus, at least according to Elliott Friedman:

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.

What the split in the $3 million signing bonus is, we don’t know.

Also of issue is that no one can take on his contract — with no intention of playing him — and then bury the deal in the AHL. 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.

If Marleau is now consenting to a trade, he will want a team in proximity to his home, so let’s go through the possibilities.

Los Angeles Kings

LA is a one-hour plane ride from San Jose according to Google Maps.

The Kings are in a pickle with a lot of cap spent on a lot of players who aren’t worth it. Kypreos said in the same segment they are considering buying out Dion Phaneuf. So what Marleau is to them is a serviceable bottom-six forward who will go away after one season, unlike all their own mistakes like Ilya Kovalchuk, who is about the same player at the same price, just on too much term.

The Leafs aren’t taking back Kovalchuk, and no one around here can come up with a plausible trade scenario that gives the Kings a reason to do a Marleau deal. Kypreos mentions the idea of the Leafs retaining some salary on Marleau. For the Kings — less concerned about cash than many teams — it’s the attendant cap hit that gets shaved that matters.

What it amounts to is the Leafs and the Kings would share in the $6.250 million in cap hit, which cannot be reduced by a buyout or any other clever trick, and the Leafs would have to pay the Kings with something to make that happen. The Kings need to use cap space to sign a lot of RFAs, so they’ll want to get paid if the Leafs won’t take a hefty contract back. The Leafs are not getting anything out of this deal other than the cap space. So put away your “trade him for Alec Martinez” proposals.

The price the Kings are going to ask is a player they can put on the ice right now, preferably one as close to half Marleau’s age as they can get. The Leafs don’t have a lot of those just laying around, which is likely why this is still in the talking phase.

Anaheim Ducks

Also a one-hour plane ride away, the Ducks are in a similar situation to the Kings, just a few months behind on the five stages of grief for their lost hopes and dreams. They’re bad, they’re old, they’ve fired their coach, and they need to do something.

The Ducks have a collection of ageing players with too much term on their deals as well, but most of them are better players than what the Kings are stuck with. Their biggest question mark is Ryan Kesler, but the talk around his status and possible surgery seems to indicate he’s going to LTIR. There’s not much incentive for the Ducks to move his contract when they can just LTIR him themselves.

If they wanted to give away Josh Manson (three years at $4.1 million) I’d celebrate, but that deal requires you send them something they want, not a contract dump. It’s just my version of the Alec Martinez fantasy.

If they’re interested in taking Marleau, and I can’t see it myself, they’d be requiring a roster-ready player.

Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver is a two-hour plane ride away and across an international border. The complication of that makes this destination fairly unlikely, but it’s worth a look.

Vancouver is also very bad and have a roster thin on talent of any kind. They want someone to take away Loui Eriksson (three years at $6 million) but that won’t be the Leafs.

They certainly have the cap space, but short of giving them a very good prospect to add to their very few, very good, young players, I don’t see how this is a fit. They aren’t likely to just take a pick or a depth player.

Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas is a one hour and 20 minute plane ride away, but Vegas is capped out.

This is not the deal Toronto will be making with Vegas. If the Leafs are serious about moving out Nikita Zaitsev, then they are likely talking to Vegas about Colin Miller, and Vegas is not going to take on a bad contract when what they want is something tasty for Miller.

Given how few tasty things the Leafs have, I have to ask again, just how many trades are they making where they pay for something? Shouldn’t the one that brings back a player take precedence over cap clearing exercises for guys who want to leave?

Colorado Avalanche

Denver is a two hour and 30 minute plane ride away.

The Avalanche have a lot of cap space, one extremely expensive RFA to sign in Mikko Rantanen, and a lot of peripheral RFAs and UFAs on a very thin roster at forward. They are a one-line team.

Marleau could make the team better, but there’s two really big arguments against them trying this sort of deal to add players to their roster.

First, they don’t see themselves as a team in the business of selling cap space, and what they could do with $6 million in space in free agency or just out of their own UFAs is likely better than the sum of Marleau and whatever the Leafs pay with to get them to take him.

Second, the Avs tried this sort of gamble with Danny Briere, and then with Jerome Iginla, and it failed twice. Altitude is hard to acclimatize too, and a fast-paced team that plays off the rush is exactly the team Marleau can’t crack the top nine on right now. He might actually be less than an NHLer in Denver, and they have the experience to know it.

Arizona Coyotes

Phoenix in a one hour and 45 minute plane ride from San Jose.

The Coyotes have been in the business of selling their cap space for so long, it’s hard to imagine them ever stopping. They don’t have much at the moment, only $8.6 million, but that’s without their latest dead money deal — the Marian Hossa contract — on LTIR. They have a few low-value RFAs to sign, and are likely letting some of their UFAs walk. So they definitely can do a deal where the Leafs pay them to take Marleau.

But do they want to do this deal? That answer, much like with the Ducks or the Avalanche, depends on how they see themselves as a team. But for Arizona, the key consideration is always cash salary and not cap hit. Assuming that July 1 portion of Marleau’s signing bonus is half, or $1.5 million, his cash salary after July 1 would be $2.75 million, and that means the Coyotes would be paying $3.5 million less for Marleau than his cap hit.

This is the classic sort of deal they love. At $2.75 million in salary, Marleau is likely a touch overpaid, perhaps, depending on his power play fit on the team he’s going to, but the Coyotes have very little competition at forward.

Of course the question is what price are they charging for this cap space they’re selling in return for a serviceable player running out of gas in his tank?

Retaining Salary

In any deal with any team, the Leafs could agree to retain up to 50% of Marleau’s salary. That means the max they could retain (bonuses are included) is $2.125 million.

If they do that, the price they’re paying the receiving team comes down, and that’s good, because paying to get rid of a contract to make cap space is never the spot you want to find yourself in. If the Leafs don’t have to give up too much in payment, or retain too much salary, then this adds some cap space to the team for this season. The cost can’t be a legitimate top nine roster player, not unless they’re making space for Erik Karlsson.

What are these teams going to ask to take Marleau? It’s hard to judge, but consider this: In 2016, Chicago sent Brian Bickell (1 year at $4 million) to Carolina for a second-round and a third-round pick, and they paid for that with Teuvo Travainen.

The Leafs do not want to pay with a player of that quality. They don’t even want to pay with Trevor Moore. And if you erase the picks coming back, they might not have to, but it’s not going to be a free ride.

We’ll see where this goes.