TORONTO -- Patrick Marleau feels he has a lot left in his tank, even though he'll turn 40 on Sept. 15.
The question is: Which NHL jersey will the veteran wing be wearing to prove it?
Marleau was traded with a conditional first-round pick and a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday for a sixth-round pick in 2020 draft. The Hurricanes could buy out the final year of his contract so he can explore options to play closer to his home in the San Jose area.
"We'll see what happens," Marleau said. "I'll leave that to my representatives and the Hurricanes to discuss.
"I could see myself playing beyond this next year. I still feel really good and I still feel I can contribute. Last year wasn't a very good year by my standards (37 points; 16 goals, 21 assists) so I'm looking forward to proving that wrong. That kind of gets the adrenaline going. You have to prove yourself year after year. I look forward to doing that this year."
Marleau, who has not missed a game in more than 10 seasons (788 straight), had 84 points (43 goals, 41 assists) in 164 regular-season games and seven points (four goals, three assists) in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games in two seasons with Toronto. He played his first 19 NHL seasons for the San Jose Sharks before signing a three-year contract with the Maple Leafs on July 2, 2017.
In a wide-ranging interview with NHL.com, Marleau candidly touched on a number of issues, including what motivated his family's desire to return to the West Coast; his special relationship with Maple Leafs forwards Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner; what Toronto needs to do to take the next step; and his gratitude to Maple Leafs Nation and the city of Toronto.
Video: Patrick Marleau traded to Hurricanes
First off, what's fueled your family's decision to return to California?
"Everything is based on that -- family. I wanted to kind of be with them. Our one son, it's based on his schooling and what was best for him. It was at the point where my wife and kids were planning on coming back (to California) already. It kind of ties it all together. Hard to explain it all. Basically, for the kids' schooling and stuff, we thought we could get the help and support we needed here. With four boys it's a little bit easier here with family around for my wife."
How did Maple Leafs management handle your wish to leave?
"They've been nothing but professional and great through the whole thing. Very understanding both ways, both from our side and their side. There were a lot of moving parts and pieces, probably more than I'm privy to."
You've said this decision had nothing to do with any dislike of Toronto. In fact, you said your family loved the city.
"My and wife were talking about that today. The things we all were able to do there, the friendships we all made, it made the experience in Toronto amazing. The fact that the kids could skate in the backyard, they could go out and go sledding, they would have never had that chance had we not gone to Toronto. It was special. We wouldn't have traded it for the world."
How much did you embrace finally getting to wear the Maple Leafs jersey after growing up watching them as a little kid in rural Alberta?
"Huge honor. Playing for a franchise that was first class all the way. Having the history that the team has. And the fan base, the Leafs Nation, was unbelievable. It feels like a home game wherever you're playing. I don't think you get that anywhere else and that's something special I'll remember the rest of my life. Going to another team's building and during warmup the building being packed full of fans when you were on the road, that's pretty special."
Video: Babcock on Patrick Marleau, 2019 NHL Draft picks
Having said that, how frustrating was it to be eliminated in the Eastern Conference First Round in seven games by the Boston Bruins in consecutive years? What do the Maple Leafs have to do to get over that hump?
"Definitely was frustrating. Especially this year when we had two chances to clinch the series and move on, and we didn't do it. To fall short especially with the bond we all had with that group of guys, we had such a tight group and we all played for each other. We fell short, but it was still a great experience. And I think it will help light a fire under a lot of guys' butts moving forward and knowing it's not going to be easy. It's going to take that little extra here and there and it's going to take everybody to win those playoff rounds and build off that."
Mitchell Marner and Auston Matthews were more than teammates. You welcomed them into your home as part of your family. How did all that come about?
"I was kind of just drawn towards them when I first got there. They're both great, great people to go along with being great hockey players. I just wanted to be around them. They're coming up in a different era than I did. But the thing they did as kids -- the skills, the skills coaches, the way they're being taught on the way up -- well, I'm still trying to grab a piece here and there and help my game. That's as far as hockey. Away from the rink they're great people. They're fun to be around. The kids loved them. You never know how guys are going to be with kids, but they fit right in. They were part of the family. I think it's something pretty special. It makes it that much harder not to be around them next year, but we have plans to stay in touch and see each other in the summer, things like that. I have a strong feeling that friendship is not going to go away, and we'll keep building it."
We saw the emotional exchanges between you, Mitch and Auston on social media on Saturday. How difficult was it when you talked to them for the first time after the trade?
"It's just tough knowing that how good a time we had together. Going out for dinners. Getting to play on the same team. Getting to see each other every day. When you talk to them, you're not going to have those interactions every day. That's what I'll miss the most."
Do you find it ironic that the trading of your salary gives Toronto more cap space help in its efforts to sign your buddy Marner, who can become a restricted free agent July 1?
"Kind of crazy how things work out. But obviously I think the world of Mitch. He deserves whatever he can get and what he feels is fair and whatever he feels is best for he and his family."
Have you given Marner any advice prior to or during these negotiations?
"We've talked at different times about it. Ultimately, it's going to come down to what he decides and what his agent decides. People close to him will have their input but ultimately it'll be about what he decides for himself and his career."