When he was traded by the Toronto Maple Leafs and subsequently bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes, all signs pointed to Patrick Marleau winding up back with the San Jose Sharks. Until they didn’t. In September, with cap space tight and no roster spot available for the 40-year-old, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said San Jose was going to pass on the veteran winger and franchise legend, bursting the Marleau-return bubble once and for all.
But about that…
On Tuesday, only a handful of games into the campaign and with the Sharks already reeling from four consecutive defeats, Wilson announced the team was set to come to terms on a deal with Marleau, reported to be a one-year, $700,000 pact. In part, adding Marleau comes as a result of injury issues the Sharks are facing, namely to Marcus Sorensen, but it’s also the result of the youth San Jose was hoping to rely on deep in the lineup simply not performing at a level that has inspired all that much confidence. And while adding a greybeard such as Marleau might not be the first instinct for some, it’s the right fit for the Sharks for a couple of reasons.
First, there’s his ability to contribute. True as it may be that his production levels have dipped in recent years, Marleau skated middle-six minutes in Toronto last season, notched 16 goals and 37 points and played in all 82 games last season for the Maple Leafs. (He hasn’t missed a game due to injury or illness in a decade.) Second, there’s familiarity. As Wilson noted, Marleau spent much of the summer skating and training with Sharks players in San Jose, which gives him some semblance of readymade chemistry with a number of those on the roster. Add to it his longstanding relationship with many of the core players from his days as a Shark – he’s the franchise leader with nearly 1,500 games in teal – and he should slot in easily. And finally, there’s a matter of cost. It’s a league-minimum contract. The Sharks are still right up against the salary cap, but shuffling a few roster nonessentials to the minors clears that up and ensures some, though not much, financial flexibility.
When Marleau slots into the lineup is anyone’s guess at the moment, and Wilson said as much Tuesday, adding that it’s up to coach Peter DeBoer and the Sharks training staff. Realistically, though, while Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks seems unlikely, Sunday’s contest against the Calgary Flames doesn’t seem entirely far-fetched. But no matter when Marleau joins the Sharks, he’s set to make his triumphant return to San Jose.
As he puts pen to paper and gets set to continue his career, however, there are several other veteran free agents left without contracts. Here are five unsigned notables who could find work in the next several weeks:
Brian Boyle, C
He’s not an offensive game-changer, but Boyle, 34, has carved out a spot for himself in the NHL as a versatile bottom-sixer who can contribute on any given night. Across the past five seasons, which have been spent between the Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators, Boyle has generally been good for about 15 goals and 20-plus points while logging heavy penalty-kill minutes. None of this makes him a hot commodity, necessarily, but a team that has a few injuries down the middle – with some cap maneuvering, the Pittsburgh Penguins, perhaps? – might be able to use him. Chances are, whoever inks Boyle is going to get him at a league-minimum salary, so it’s not a bank-breaker of an addition.
Thomas Vanek, LW
Given how tight a number of teams are to the cap and that the game is moving away from paying veterans in favor of saving spots for cheap, younger talent, maybe it’s not so surprising Vanek didn’t find work this off-season. That said, the 35-year-old scored 16 goals and 36 points last season on a Red Wings team that wasn’t all that offensively gifted. He can produce, particularly on the power play, and one would think that makes him an asset to a number of teams.
Much like the situation with Boyle, Vanek’s landing spot will boil down to a team running into injury trouble or needing an offensive boost. In no way is he going to skate big minutes, but Vanek can certainly contribute. A team with cap space and a need for depth scoring might be the best bet. And the Columbus Blue Jackets might be among those that fit the bill.
Andrew MacDonald, D
As a top-pairing, high-priced defender, MacDonald was maligned by the Philadelphia Flyers faithful. But when he entered Flames camp this off-season on a professional tryout, he seemed to have an outside shot of making the cut. He didn’t, of course, hence his presence on this here list, but MacDonald can be a useful sixth or even seventh defenseman for a team in need. In fact, some are probably surprised that the Winnipeg Jets, what with their banged up blueline, haven't gone out and snapped MacDonald up.
We probably shouldn’t count the Jets option out, though, nor should we overlook the possibility he lands with another NHL club in the not-too-distant future. He’s not going to be a top-pairing or even a top-four defender, but in a third-pairing role with limited minutes and some time on the power play, the 33-year-old can be a fit.
Magnus Paajarvi, LW
This one is a bit of a head-scratcher, if only in the sense that Paajarvi has made himself a useful bottom-six piece in recent years and he fits the bill for a modern depth player. He skates well, he can chip in offensively and he’s going to come cheap. Yet, we’re one week into the season and he hasn’t even sniffed a professional tryout. Odd. It’s not even as though Paajarvi had an awful season in 2018-19. He registered 11 goals and 19 points in 80 games with the Senators.
The funny thing is that Ottawa could very well be where he ends up once again. The Senators’ recent acquisition of Vladislav Namestnikov has all the markings of the organization making a simple addition of NHL-ready talent in the face of a prospect-laden roster than needs more seasoning. Paajarvi could be another low-cost addition who allows the Senators to continue to let their prospects marinate in the minors instead of being thrust into the NHL before they are ready.
Justin Williams, RW
All right, let’s be honest: by the dictionary definition, Williams is a free agent, but the reality is that if he’s going to sign with any team this season, it’s going to be the Carolina Hurricanes. We can assume this because, when the 38-year-old decided that he was going to take some time away from the game instead of inking a deal that would see him in the lineup for the start of the campaign, the announcement was made through the Hurricanes. Put two-and-two together there.
At this moment, maybe the Hurricanes don’t need Williams. Carolina is undefeated and have looked excellent. But he could very well be a December or under-the-wire addition for the Hurricanes, who might be seeking to add a bit more scoring depth to put them over the top at some point. No guarantees or anything, but it seems the likeliest scenario.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.