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 Toronto battles to get far enough under the salary cap to sign young gun Mitch Marner to a new contract. Marleau, who is entering the final season of a three-year deal, reportedly put his Toronto home on the market and is ready to part ways with the Leafs.
There's one big catch, though: Marleau reportedly only will OK a move if it's back to the Sharks, the team with which he played for nearly two decades.
Of course, this would thrill Sharks fans. But the team isn't rolling out a red carpet for Marleau, and it shouldn't. In fact, bringing Marleau back wouldn't be in the Sharks' best interest. Fans might not want to hear it, but a Marleau-Sharks reunion isn't a good idea.
For starters, a team building for another run at the Stanley Cup shouldn't take on a player who's coming off a down season. Even though Marleau remains the Sharks' all-time leader in points and goals, he just finished a 37-point campaign, his only sub-40-point season since he was a rookie. By comparison, Joonas Donskoi also is coming off a 37-point season, and he 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 lack of production from their depth forwards, it wouldn't make sense 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 probably would have to acquire Marleau and buy out the rest of his contract so the Sharks could sign him at a price with which they are comfortable.
Keep in mind, the Sharks still have plenty of other contracts they need to settle ahead of free agency, and they're sitting pretty snug under the salary cap after making Erik Karlsson the NHL's highest-paid defenseman. If the Sharks want to keep Joe Pavelski from hitting the market or Timo Meier from becoming a restricted free agent -- just to name two 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 only would 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, they wouldn't have traded Justin Braun to the Flyers on Tuesday in order to free up cap space.
Marleau remains a fan favorite in San Jose, but that doesn't mean the Sharks should bring him back. Their goal remains to win a Stanley Cup, and this isn't a move that would position them to do that.
So until the day Marleau signs a one-day contract and retires in teal, a reunion probably isn't a great idea for the Sharks.