It's the rumor built to pull at every Sharks fans' heartstrings: Patrick Marleau wants to return to San Jose.
The franchise's longest-tenured player and current Maple Leaf has been the subject of trade talk as the Toronto battles to get far enough under the salary cap to sign young gun Mitch Marner to a contract. Marleau, who is entering the final season of a three-year contract, reportedly put his Toronto home on the market and is ready to part ways with the Leafs.
There's one big catch though -- Marleau will only OK a move if it's back to the Sharks, the team he played with for nearly two decades.
Of course, this would thrill Sharks fans. But San Jose isn't rolling out a red carpet for Marleau, and they shouldn't. In fact, bringing Marleau back wouldn't be in the Sharks' best interest. Fans may not want to hear it, but a reunion between Marleau and the Sharks isn't a good idea.
For starters, a team building for another run at the Stanley Cup shouldn't be taking on a playing coming off a down year. Even though Marleau remains the all-time leader in points and goals for San Jose, he's also coming off a 37-point campaign -- the only sub-40-point season since he was a rookie.
By comparison, Joonas Donskoi is also coming off a 37-point season and was benched toward the end of the regular season for not producing. Given the Sharks' biggest problem at the end of their playoff run was that they weren't getting production from their depth forwards, it wouldn't make sense for them to add a player who's on the decline.
Yes, even one as well-liked as Marleau.
Then, there's the whole mess of how the Sharks would get Marleau back in San Jose in the first place. As SportsNet's Nick Kypreos reported Tuesday, a third team would probably have to get into the mix to acquire Marleau and buy out the rest of his contract so San Jose could sign him at a price they are comfortable with.
Keep in mind, the Sharks still have plenty of other contracts they need to take care of ahead of free agency and are sitting pretty snug under the salary cap after making Erik Karlsson the highest-paid defenseman in the league. If the Sharks are going to keep Joe Pavelski from hitting the market or Timo Meier from becoming a restricted free agent -- just to name of San Jose's 21-player list of free agents -- then adding more money to the mix would prevent them from doing that.
If anything, trying to bring Marleau back would only make San Jose's current situation worse.
At the end of the day, a team can't be sentimental when it comes to the business of hockey. If the Sharks were sentimental, they wouldn't have traded Justin Braun to the Flyers Tuesday morning in order to free up space under the salary cap.
Marleau might remain a fan favorite in San Jose, but that doesn't mean the Sharks should bring him back if he isn't going to boost their offense. The Sharks' goal is still to win a Stanley Cup and this isn't a move that would help them get into position to do that.
So until the day Marleau signs a one-day contract and retires in teal, a reunion with the Sharks probably isn't a great idea.