There’s no other way to state it: Patrick Marleau is the epitome of dependability and durability at the NHL level.
Ahead of Marleau’s record-breaking 1,768th regular-season game Monday night against the Vegas Golden Knights, much has been made on social media about the significance and pure incredibility of his feat.
There’s a crazy stat for everyone. It could be what surprises you the most is the fact that Marleau’s played in a game with 37 percent of all NHLers to ever play in the league. Maybe it’s the fact that Marleau’s only missed 31 games in his entire career. Maybe it’s the fact that the last NHL game Marleau missed was in 2009 — giving him a current iron man streak of 898 games, the fourth-longest of all-time. Or maybe it’s the fact that Marleau has now played in four different decades in a San Jose Sharks uniform.
No matter how you slice it, his longevity will cement him as one of the greatest players to touch the ice. While he may not be the most productive at age 41 (eight points in 44 games this year), his 566 goals and 1,196 points are hallmarks of a consistent and productive career.
Today, it’s Marleau’s day. Let’s take a look at what’s made his career so special.
An Abridged Recollection of the Career of Patrick Marleau
Marleau first broke into junior hockey at age 16. He joined the 1995-96 Seattle Thunderbirds as a rookie, making an immediate impact. His 74 points in 72 games weren’t necessarily prolific. But it still led the team in points and was still good enough to lead them to a playoff berth. However, it was his draft year in 1996-97 that saw Marleau shoot up draft rankings. He posted 125 points in just 71 games. That was good enough for third in WHL scoring and he led the Thunderbirds to a losing effort in the WHL finals that season.
It was that draft year explosion that led up to him being picked second overall in 1997 by the Sharks. And despite not teaming up with another Sharks legend in Joe Thornton until the mid-2000s, their careers were forever intertwined from that day after Thornton was picked first overall by the Boston Bruins.
In 1997-98, it was Marleau who would have the more successful rookie campaign. In 74 games, Marleau totalled 13 goals in 32 points, a decent rookie outing. However, neither of the top two picks took home that year’s Calder Trophy. That went to Sergei Samsonov, who was drafted eighth overall in that 1997 draft. Another incredible note – those 74 games still stand as the least amount of games that Marleau’s played in a full 82-game season.
Marleau’s emergence into the league that season saw the Sharks make the playoffs each of the next five seasons. However, in Marleau’s two playoff appearances in the late 1990s, the Sharks couldn’t advance past the first round.
But Marleau would still only improve on that rookie campaign in year two. 1998-99 saw Patty tally his first 20-goal campaign, finishing with 45 points in 81 games.
As Patrick Marleau matured over the next decade, the Sharks only got better with him. The Sharks missed the playoffs only once in this decade, a 2002-03 season that saw the team shift into neutral with some coaching uncertainty.
Statistically, Marleau continued his consistency. He delivered several 50-point campaigns early in the decade but had yet to emerge as a really deadly scoring threat like his draft billing would have suggested.
But like the rest of the team, Marleau’s career benefitted greatly from the Sharks’ acquisition of Joe Thornton during the 2005-06 season. Marleau broke out for 86 points in 82 games post-lockout. It was his first 30-goal season and his first season over a point-per-game pace.
Aside from a down year in 2007-08, Marleau would total at least 70 points in every remaining season that decade. As he produced more consistently, he was used more and more by the Sharks’ coaches, averaging over 21 minutes of ice time a night at the end of the 2010s.
Unfortunately, playoff appearances didn’t translate into deep playoff runs very often for the Sharks. They weren’t able to advance past the second-round post-lockout until the next decade of Marleau’s career.
The 2010s were arguably where Patrick Marleau truly cemented his legacy as a Shark and an NHLer. He opened the decade with a near-career-high 83 points in 2009-10, as he helped pilot the Sharks to back-to-back appearances in the Western Conference Finals to begin the decade. However, those Sharks were only able to register a grand total of one win in those appearances. They lost to an eventual Stanley Cup Champion in Chicago and a Presidents’ Trophy winner in Vancouver.
However, Marleau continued his consistency throughout the early 2010s, consistently putting up 50+ points (or equivalent in shortened seasons). Yet ironically enough, as soon as Marleau’s numbers started to drop off with only a 48-point campaign, the Sharks finally went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2016. While losing to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Marleau was still productive, posting 13 points in 24 games.
But as the Sharks began to fall out of contention, a now 38-year-old Marleau needed another chance to try and win his first Stanley Cup. He signed a three-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2017 offseason. Marleau maintained decent production throughout his two seasons there (47 and 37 points). However, Toronto’s young core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly wasn’t enough to get Marleau a championship. Toronto bowed out to the Bruins in consecutive First Rounds.
After being traded to and then immediately bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes, Marleau returned to San Jose in advance of the 2019-20 campaign. While the Sharks stand as just a shell of their former selves, Marleau’s leadership has been crucial in helping develop some younger talent. Rudolfs Balcers, Dylan Gambrell, and Mario Ferraro are just some of those names as the Sharks re-tool for the future.
The Here and Now
A failed attempt at a championship in 2019-20 after a trade deadline deal to Pittsburgh saw Marleau return again for 2020-21. With this edition of the Sharks, Marleau will make history as the all-time games played leader Monday night against Vegas.
Whether Mr. Shark returns for the 2021-22 campaign is unknown at this point. What’s for certain is that even without a championship, Patrick Marleau has remained one of the most respected, consistent, and healthy players in the NHL. He’ll deserve stick taps and so much more as Marleau takes the reigns as one of the kings of NHL history.
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