Would the Toronto Maple Leafs be interested in Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau?

Jan 31, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Patrick Marleau (12) celebrates with center Joe Thornton (19) after scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 31, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Patrick Marleau (12) celebrates with center Joe Thornton (19) after scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

With all the rumours surrounding defencemen targets for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have come up as potential free agent targets, but does this make sense for the Blue and White?

The obvious need for the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into next season is their blueline and there have been a number of players linked to the Leafs since the season ended. On Thursday, while appearing on Tim and Sid, Elliotte Friedman talked about the Leafs approach to free agency and that he could see them making a play for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

It is an interesting proposition considering but do the Leafs need to go after the pending UFA’ s? Obviously the Leafs priority is not upfront, but Marleau and Thornton would fill holes that they need to address. This would only happen if the San Jose Sharks are unable to bring back the long tenured veterans but as it stands there have been no rumours of a deal being close. The obvious argument against offering a contract to Marleau and Thornton is their age, but both players have not shown any signs of slowing down yet.

Marleau had a slow start to the season with only 26 points in the first 50 games. However he picked it up in the month of January with eight goals in 14 games and finished with 20 points in the last 32 games of the season. He also added three goals, four points in six playoff games. What makes Marleau an attractive option is his durability. The last time the 37-year old missed a game was the 2008-09 season. He has great speed and defensive awareness receiving votes for the Lady Byng.

If the Leafs were interested in bringing in the Saskatchewan native, he could be a potential fit on the wing with Auston Matthews. While he may not have the physical game that Zach Hyman brings but the Leafs would not have a drop-off on the defensive side and they would be getting a major boost offensively. There were developments on the Marleau front as Craig Custance reported that seven teams were interested in the winger.

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It will be tough to get Marleau to leave San Jose since he has been with the team since he was 18-years old. The fact that he is considering other teams means that a return is not set in stone. The team will need to hand out a new contract for Martin Jones, Marc-Edouard Vlasic next year then Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture in two years.

When it comes to Thornton, it is likely that he would like to return to the Sharks with Marleau. They have been teammates for the past 10 seasons and are still hunting a Stanley Cup. The soon-to-be- 38-year old centre is coming off a major knee injury but considering his body of work, that should not be a major concern.

The obvious issue with linking Thornton to the Leafs is the fit, because the Leafs have Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, and Tyler Bozak down the middle. If Thornton were to sign in Toronto it would mean that moving out Bozak but his $4.25-million cap hit shouldn’t be too hard to move. Thornton is a reliable centre that can put up 60 points and like Marleau, he has strong defensive and possession stats.

If the Leafs put him on a line with players that can score, there should be no problem in Thornton’s ability to produce offensively. The concern is whether the injury hampers his offseason training. He would be a good two-way centre option for the Leafs but unless they can move out Bozak it would be tough to understand the fit for Thornton in Toronto.

However, before the Leafs contemplate bringing in Marleau or Thornton, they need to think about what both players want in terms of money and term. It was reported that both wanted three-year deals which was what they have gone for in the past. The obvious concern is handing out 38-year olds term especially if a team has to deal with other contract for their younger players. In the Leafs case they will have a new contract for William Nylander that starts in 2018-2019, then Matthews and Mitch Marner in 2019-2020.

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If the Leafs are going to offer Marleau and Thornton contracts, the maximum term should be two years. Whether that would be enough to convince them to leave San Jose is another issue. The Leafs have the luxury of cap space the next two seasons with the LTIR relief from Nathan Horton and Joffrey Lupul. That would give them the financial flexibility to put in a decent offer for Thornton and Marleau but again the Leafs will have a lot of competition which means that a team will overpay for them. If the team had to choose between the two, Marleau would make the most sense given that he can play on a wing with Matthews and produce offensively.