The Toronto Maple Leafs surprised a lot of people last season when they put together an impressive campaign to grab hold of a playoff berth.
Then came another surprise in the off-season, when the team landed one of the biggest free agents in Patrick Marleau.
Signing the veteran out of San Jose to a three-year, $18.75-million deal signalled a shift in the free-agency landscape and sent a message to players around the league that Toronto is shaping up to be a desirable destination to play.
“I think that it excited our players — and when I say our young players, they’re all younger than Patrick, so it excited our veteran guys who are Nazem [Kadri] and Morgan [Rielly] and Jake [Gardiner], it excited them as well that a player of his calibre would choose Toronto and say ‘I want to come be a part of this,'” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. “I give the players the credit. It doesn’t matter at this point what I say or even [what Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello] says — the biggest influence that we have and the biggest attraction that we have to other players are the players in the dressing room and on the ice.
“They did a great job last year and they put the work in and they looked like they were enjoying it. So I think that’s how you start to change the perception.”
Marleau, 37, won’t be the only new veteran in the locker-room this season. The Leafs also signed Dominic Moore and Ron Hainsey (fresh off a Stanley Cup victory with the Penguins) to ensure the youthful team has some extra wisdom to guide it through the much-anticipated sophomore season.
In the case of Marleau, it also came down to the coach.
“I think that, in talking to Patrick afterwards, I think that Mike Babcock was a real motivating force for him to come here as well,” said Shanahan. “He’s had a lot of success with him at Olympics, and Mike was very enthusiastic about what he has thought would be a real good role for Patrick. And so I think that that was probably it, more than anything, and the comfort with Mike and just the young players and the direction of the team.”
There's a whole lot of Canadian pride here. pic.twitter.com/dWbS17mmIW
— Christina Marleau (@c_marleau) July 28, 2017
Babcock and Marleau won consecutive Olympic gold medals together in 2010 and 2014. The excitement goes both ways, as Babcock expressed his enthusiasm about bringing in the veteran back when the signing was made official.
“We think it’s an unbelievable situation because of the skill level we have already and the youth we have. I think it’s going to be the fountain of youth for him,” Babcock told NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika back in July. “He’s going to arrive here and be energized by all these kids. He won’t even believe how young they are, for crying out loud.”
Shanahan, of course, knows first-hand what it’s like to play under the guidance of Babcock from his time in Detroit.
“Mike is the kind of guy, regardless of whether we win or lose the night before… he shakes whatever happened the night before off and he shows up the next morning with this sort of brand new attitude that today is the most important day in your life,” Shanahan said. “And that’s really an amazing gift that he has as a coach.”