The Leafs clearly think Marleau is the type of veteran player who can put them over the top. With its core of young forwards — Auston Matthews, 20, William Nylander, 21, and Mitch Marner, 20 — Toronto made the playoffs for only the second time in 12 seasons last spring. The Maple Leafs pushed the first-place Washington Capitals to six games in the first round, with five of the games going to overtime.
Toronto has adopted a win-now mentality because the entry-level contracts for Matthews, Nylander, and Marner will expire over the next two seasons, and in the salary-cap era, it is unlikely the team will be able to keep all three if they continue to develop. If they are on the clock, then, so is Marleau: he is entering his 20th N.H.L. season, and while he is expected to have a leadership role, Marleau said the young Leafs stars might be able to teach him something, too.
“I don’t know it all,” he said. “I come to the rink and I look to learn somehow, some way. I’m watching guys out there to see the different things they do. Maybe there’s something I can add it to my game.”
Initially, Marleau has been put on a line with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov, which appears to be a good fit personality-wise. Kadri and Komarov like to bark at one another in a game, and Marleau can be a calming influence.
Coming to Toronto was not an easy decision for Marleau, whom the Sharks selected second overall in the 1997 draft. He said he wore out a few carpets at home pacing back and forth. His wife, Christina, whom he met in San Jose, did not want to influence her husband’s decision, so she stayed quiet.
She said she trusted that he would make the best decision for them and their four sons: Landon, who turns 11 in October; Brody, 8; Jagger, 6; and Caleb, who turns 3 in November.
Marleau consulted his parents, who still reside in the small farming community of Aneroid, Saskatchewan, where he grew up. His new home takes him farther from Aneroid than he was in San Jose, but the Leafs open on the road Wednesday in Winnipeg, which is only about 500 miles from the Marleau family’s grain and cattle farm. His parents plan to be there to see their son’s debut in a Leafs uniform.
It is unlikely his older brother, Richard, will attend because it is harvesting time. He has taken over the grain side of the farm from their father, Denis.
“My family is pretty excited for me,” Marleau said. “Being back in Canada, that’s big.”
After signing with the Leafs, Patrick took his family to Hawaii. But he was so committed to his conditioning work that he worked out constantly, running the beach and hitting the gym.
Until now, Marleau’s life has been as steady as his play – a farm boy who likes routine playing with one professional team and staying with the first love he met as a 19-year-old.
Christina Marleau was working in the accounting department for the Sharks when she noticed Patrick walking around the rink on game days at about the same time as the ushers.
She mistook him for an usher and told her boss she wanted to meet this usher. Later, Sharks defenseman Bryan Marchment told her he wanted to introduce her to a friend, but she was not interested in dating a player. At a Christmas party, she saw the “usher” she was interested in, and her boss explained that Patrick was a player, not an usher.
“We had one date and we never broke up,” Christina said. “We’ve been together ever since.”
Marleau, the Sharks’ career leader in goals, games and points, is still trying to get to know his new teammates and feeling his way around the dressing room.
“It’s been a while where I don’t know the guys in the room,” he said.
His teammates certainly know Marleau by reputation.
“He’s a great skater, he’s responsible,” defenseman Connor Carrick said. “He’s been in the N.H.L. a long time. He’s an ultra-veteran. He’s got almost 1,500 N.H.L. games. That’s insane. I have so much respect for that.”
At least Marleau and Babcock know one another well. Babcock selected Marleau for Canada’s Olympic team in 2010 and 2014; both times, he returned from the Games with a gold medal.
Babcock predicted that Marleau would score 20 goals this season, which is more or less in line with what he produced the past few years in San Jose.
Marleau did not mind that Babcock set this target for him. “I like that pressure,” he said.
He said he did not mind the higher level of news media scrutiny in Toronto, either. “I’ve been around a long time,” he said. “It’s just a bigger group of people. You answer their questions and you’re done.”