Like a Fine Wine
For all the criticism that has come down on Patrick Marleau over the years (and yours truly is no saint in that regard), all the career Shark has done, and continues to do, is score goals, lots of goals. While those like myself prefer to see a bit more tenacity in his game, regardless, he is too valuable to trade away. The just turned 35-year-old has effectively scored 30 goals or more in six straight seasons from age 29-34. His goal totals the last six years are as follows: 38, 44, 37, 30, 17 (lockout year was on pace for 29), and 33. In other words, he has averaged 35 goals over 82 games the last six seasons. When NHL prime ages for forwards are consistently found to be between 23-28, Marleau has managed to Shark that trend. He has had his best years well into his 30’s.
Just last season Marleau’s 33 goals at age 34 were more than he scored at ages 24, 25, and 27. In fact, he only scored one more goal (34), in the league wide scoring bonanza that was the 2005-06 season at age 26. Even in his mid 30’s, and with much improved defenses and tight checking, Marleau still buried nearly the same amount of goals.
While I was very critical of Marleau in the past (particularly after two out of three bad series against the Red Wings in 2011 and Blues in 2012), the fact of the matter is he’s actually been a playoff dynamo outside of those two series. From 2002 through 2010, Marleau scored 67 points in 84 playoff games. That equates to a phenomenal points per game average of .80.
Furthermore, while Marleau scored only eight points in 17 playoff games from the start of that 2011 Red Wings series through to the 2012 Blues series (overall just .47 points per game average), he has since returned to form. Over the past two playoff since, he has scored 15 points in 18 games, for a points per game average of .83.
Again, the narrative that Marleau and Joe Thornton are the reasons the Sharks don’t win in the playoffs couldn’t be farther from the truth. On a regular basis, these two continue to lead in scoring come the postseason. It’s unfortunate they were unofficially called out by GM Doug Wilson after the Kings collapse for not scoring in the last three games. These guys should be judged on their body of work. Not for three games against the best team in hockey while short their best defenseman.
Never Misses Games
Now given Marleau’s track record and ability to stay healthy, he could continue to score 30 goals for a handful of years to come. Despite having the young speedster Matt Nieto around, it is still hard to say that Marleau isn’t the fastest skater on the Sharks. He still has that phenomenal stride, and those hands aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
While some of us would like to see Marleau play a more physical, tenacious brand of hockey, staying away from that rough stuff has helped Marleau stay injury free. Just ask Ryane Clowe what playing tough can do to the career of a top-six forward. The last time Marleau missed a regular season game was the 2008-09 regular season.
Not to mention, Marleau has spent the last couple of seasons primarily alongide Logan Couture. The two have great chemistry. While I’ve predicted No. 12 to “fall back” from 33 to 30 goals, he could very well eclipse 35 again. When you consider that Couture missed about a month last season, a healthy year from him could pay more dividends for Marleau. Couture missed 16 games from January 7th through February 7th last year. Marleau scored just four goals in those 16 games. He scored his other 29 in 66 games mostly (if not always) alongside Couture. That 29 in 66 is a 36 goal pace over 82 games. And have I mentioned Couture is prime for a breakout year as a 25-year-old? My 30 goal projection for Marleau is actually on the low end if you really think about it. For a player at 35-years-old, that’s simply astonishing. Father Time can try, but it will probably take him four or five more years to fully catch up to No. 12.