The Ever-So-Talented Patrick Marleau

This is the first of three pieces on San Jose Sharks legend Patrick Marleau.

This part will cover some of the more descriptive moments of his career in San Jose along with the sorts of highlights which made it such a thrill to watch him play.

The second piece will cover his ups and downs, what cements his legacy, and what frustrates it. And finally, we’ll look forward to what he brings to his new team in Toronto, his second and perhaps final stop on a journey which could approach a staggering 2,000 NHL games.

Marleau by the Numbers

For Sharks fans, he’s gone. A July parting is a slow ripping off of the band-aid. The emotional impact will be felt well into the start of the season in October, and the impact on the ice may last far longer. Marleau lined up in teal for 1,670 regular-season and playoff games. The person has done more in a San Jose Sharks uniform than any other player in team history.

Marleau was part of the Sharks organization for 20 years and 10 days, beginning on his draft day of June 21, 1997, and ending on July 1, 2017, when he became a free agent. A day later, Marleau joined the Maple Leafs.

San Jose Sharks
From an earlier Sharks era, Patrick Marleau (12) with Dany Heatley (15), Joe Thornton (19), Dan Boyle (22) and Joe Pavelski (8).  (Icon SMI)

Marleau’s legacy in San Jose is both straightforward and complex. He played a total of 1,493 regular season games (missing only 31 out of 1,524 total), scoring 508 goals and 1,082 points. Then add another 177 playoff games, another 68 goals, and another 120 points.

He finishes as the franchise leader in a ton of categories, including every one related to career goal scoring, for both the regular season and playoffs. He’ll have his teal ‘12’ jersey retired at some point, shortly after he calls it a career. And while there may be a few boos upon his return to the Shark Tank on Oct. 30, they’ll be completely drowned out by a long, loud ovation.

Seeing Marleau

I’ve selected a number of videos highlighting Marleau’s play. Some of these will show up in a different context in the next article in the series.

I’ll begin with the obvious: Marleau is a finisher.

When all the hard work is done and the scoring chance is there, Marleau turns the chance into a goal. The term ‘loose change’ refers to a puck battle near the crease where the puck suddenly spits out to a seemingly arbitrary spot. Marleau is an expert in turning loose change into goals. He goes to spots where he collects the loose change and scores.

San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau (12) celebrates after scoring his 500th NHL goal. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Whether on the backside of a play or in the midst of chaos, Marleau positions himself for the best scoring chance. He anticipates the puck taking a friendly bounce. It is a goal scorer’s mentality. When the puck takes a friendly bounce, his quick, accurate release means, more often than not, the puck is in the back of the net a moment later. An example is this goal against the Philadelphia Flyers

Marleau’s ability to lurk around the net and find scoring areas is a nifty skill, but hardly the only one in his bag of tricks.

Open Ice

Marleau is at his most vivid in open ice. In addition to his speed and acceleration, his fluid movement, his timing, and his sense of spacing helped him to put up what may well be a Hall-of-Fame career. This goal in the 2016 playoffs against Nashville gives a sense of Marleau in flight. Bursting out of his own zone, he creates separation while remaining in complete control. He has an innate sense of spacing during the two-on-one rush. In the end, the goalie had no chance.

Marleau was especially lethal shorthanded, pouncing on offensive misplays and accelerating towards the opposing goalie. On these breakaways, opponents try to catch him from behind. They never do. The play below against Arizona shows his anticipation, speed, and power. He outskates the opponent and maintains his stride even as the defender loses his stick trying to slow Marleau down.

Raw Talent

Two illustrative moments of Marleau’s raw talent are an assist versus the Vancouver Canucks and a goal against the Florida Panthers. Each shows a breadth of skills.

On the assist against Vancouver (at the 1:05 mark), Marleau strips the puck from Daniel Sedin and in one motion, passes the puck to Matt Nieto’s tape for a point-blank shot. This is the Marleau less known: finding the moment an opponent is unaware and capitalizing. He uses a combination of stealth, quickness, stick handling and strength to take the puck away. Importantly, he stays balanced and focused, which allows him to make an exceptional pass. As the announcer said of the shot, the goalie “had no chance.”

It is easy to forget Marleau is bigger and stronger than most finesse players. This play reminds us. Superb passing and on-ice awareness are also Marleau traits, though perhaps not the ones at the top of most lists.

For a display of Marleau’s physical abilities, the goal against Florida is its own highlight gallery. Marleau uses his speed to get past the defender (Alex Petrovic), then uses power to change direction. He makes a hook-turn, a move pretty much every player Marleau’s size wipes out on. He has the agility to maintain balance and the coordination to shoot the puck at just the right moment. Oh yes, and he went forehand to backhand as he was falling down, too. Marleau is strong and elusive in the sequence. He treats the defender as the proverbial pylon, something to maneuver around, but unable to affect his skating.

Classic Marleau

The final video is a Marleau snipe. This shot in Game 5 of the 2010 series against Detroit is classic Marleau. A shot from in front, picking his spot to beat the goaltender. Yes, it’s a laser, but velocity isn’t the key. The key is the quickness of the release and the accuracy of the shot, all derived from anticipating the play. Marleau, as always, was ready to score when the puck came his way. And because it also matters, this was a series-winning goal.

More Than Skating

When people talk about Marleau’s skating, ‘fast’ is usually the first word. But it is more than fast. He skates with power. He gets up to speed faster than a man his size should. And he changes directions faster, too. Plus it’s tough to knock him off stride. Marleau’s new coach, Mike Babcock, was asked about concerns with Marleau’s age. He replied, “have you seen him skate?” Skating has lots of attributes and Marleau checks box after box.

Of course, skating is just one of many Marleau attributes. His talent and skills have put him in the upper echelon of NHL players. This is visually evident, yet there is a gnawing sense – perhaps Marleau didn’t fully exploit his abilities. We’ll explore the myths and realities in Part 2.

Coming in the next couple days:

Part 2: Patrick Marleau’s Yin and Yang

Part 3: Is Patrick Marleau Right for Toronto?