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NHL Free Agency 2017: Marleau’s departure was both shocking and unsurprising

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Examining the inherent contradictions in Marleau and San Jose parting ways.

Calgary Flames v San Jose Sharks Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Patrick Marleau’s decision to leave the San Jose Sharks made sense for himself and the Sharks.

In signing a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, Marleau got the term he was reportedly seeking. He left one of the league’s oldest teams last season to join one of its youngest, and play for a coach that has long admired him.

In letting Marleau go, San Jose avoided adding financial commitments to the $32.75 million the Sharks will have tied up in Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Martin Jones, Joe Pavelski, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic from 2018 onward, maintained long-term flexibility to surround that core with talent, and opened up a top nine forward spot for a young player to grow into this season.

Yet, Marleau’s departure was still a shock.

It was shocking to see Marleau move on from the only team he’s ever known. His decision was not easy, as the 37-year-old told reporters on Sunday that he’d “worn out a few carpets pacing around the house trying to make this decision the last couple days.” He reportedly weighed a two-year offer from the Anaheim Ducks that “[wasn’t] near” the Leafs’, an offer from the Dallas Stars, and San Jose’s willingness to offer as much as two years and $10 million, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, before he signed with Toronto.

He left the city in which he’s lived half of his life and the entirety of adulthood for one with a media following unmatched in intensity. Marleau will now have the pressure of a big contract in one of the league’s biggest markets, and will be expected to lead a young core into contention as a long-suffering fanbase starved for a Stanley Cup watches intently.

It was shocking to see the Sharks move on from the face of the franchise, even as Marleau was long past his prime. He had long shared, and even ceded the spotlight as the Sharks acquired or drafted Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture during his two decades in teal. Marleau, though, stood above each of them in franchise lore as a homegrown star, the highest-scoring and longest-tenured player in franchise history. He will, in Thornton’s words, “go down as the greatest Shark of all time.”

It’s difficult to replace a legend, even as their production wasn’t what it once was. Marleau still scored 27 goals last season, finishing third on a team that scored the 19th-most goals in the league. Couture finished fourth with 25, and the next-highest goal-scorer, Melker Karlsson, scored just 11. As things currently stand, San Jose will need a lot to go right in order to replace, let alone surpass, Marleau’s production. Mikkel Boedker and Joel Ward will need to rebound from poor shooting performances, Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier must continue to develop, and Tomas Hertl has to stay healthy. That’s a lot to ask.

Somehow, Marleau and the Sharks are better and worse off without one another. It was a shocking decision that came as no surprise, one that seemed as sensible as it was nonsensical, and as painful as it was relieving. Ultimately, Marleau’s departure is defined by contradictions.

Marleau moved on from the Sharks, and the Sharks moved on from Marleau. Both face an uncertain future, but that uncertainty may be the only thing that either can be certain about moving forward.