Toronto Maple Leafs: Long-term outlook stays the same despite signing Patrick Marleau

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 9: Auston Matthews
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 9: Auston Matthews /

With the addition of Patrick Marleau, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made it clear that they see a window to compete but that has not changed Brendan Shanahan‘s  long-term vision.

For the longest time, the Toronto Maple Leafs have constantly stated that they will not divert from the plan which GM Lou Lamoriello reiterated after the first day of free agency. When Patrick Marleau was signed, it made it clear that the Leafs were not going to be patient with this core. That is because the players have shown that they are ready to move forward and while a team may have a blueprint, but that can change based on circumstances beyond control.

Did the Leafs expect to land Auston Matthews with the first overall pick? Was it safe to assume that William Nylander and Mitch Marner would make an impact in their first full season? The organization can certainly put the pieces together but it is the players who ultimately dictate how everything unfolds. The rebuild is definitely over but the next phase of the plan is just getting started.

“As I have said often, the five-year plan changes every day,” said Lamoriello about accelerating the plan. “Certainly, the acquisition of this player [Marleau] made a little change in perception, but not reality.

What he means is that while people’s perception of the Leafs is that they are in a win-now mentality, they continue to work on sustaining the long term success of the franchise. They did not decide to take assets or important parts of their core and trade it away for short term success. That is why Marleau was only offered three years and Ron Hainsey was offered two. They have carved out a window that has provided their young players with the right veteran support to be competitive and give other prospects a chance to continue their development. Once those players are ready they can step in and take on a more prominent role.

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Jake Middleton discussed on the latest episode of the ToT Cast that there is a different mindset to how you integrate defencemen in the lineup as opposed to forwards. Adding Hainsey means that there is less jobs available on the Leafs blueline. It is unrealistic to expect a group of rookie defencemen to have the same impact that the group of forwards had last season. If Travis Dermott is not ready for full time duty in the NHL, it does not handcuff the Leafs, they are not putting themselves in a position where they are without options. If Dermott is going to make the jump he will dictate that, not the other way around.

The Leafs saw an opportunity with their salary cap position and the players that were available to them. They decided that it would be better for the development of their young players to have veteran players push them forward. They also understood that they were not going to be able to make a big splash in free agency in a couple of years from now but in that time, the core players will be in a better position to carry the load.

The Chicago Blackhawks did this before the 2008-09 season after missing the playoffs by three points. They saw a contender emerging and decided to add Brian Campbell. Christobal Huet, and Samuel Pahlsson to a young core that consisted of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith Brent Seabrook and Dustin Byfuglien. They also added Marian Hossa  the following year and that was one of the final pieces added to the team who went on to win their first Stanley Cup.

The Leafs made three key additions to their roster without giving up any future assets. This keeps them in line with their long term plan which is to draft and develop players that can become a part of the blueprint in time. They do not need Timothy Liljegren to be a major contributor right away, Jeremy Bracco, Adam Brooks and Andrew Nielsen can continue to learn at the pace that will make them successful.

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So before people come out and say that the Leafs are deviating from the plan, they need to understand that management has the long-term vision intact. They see an opportunity to put the team in a competitive window that may have come sooner than predicted but that is because the team’s core put them in that spot and they should be rewarded for it.