The San Jose Sharks are a team that lack the history of the Montreal Canadiens. The team’s beginning in the league saw San Jose take part in the 1991 Expansion Draft alongside the Minnesota North Stars. Since then the Sharks have appeared in one Stanley Cup Final, five Western Conference Finals, and secure one Presidents’ Trophy.
Selecting just five players makes for difficult decisions. Notably, I did not select a defenseman to crack this list of historic San Jose players. I wanted to choose players that were not only tenured with the organization for long periods of time, but were also key contributors to quality teams.
For example, while Igor Larionov and Vincent Damphousse were pivotal in the formative years of the Sharks, they lacked the longevity with the Sharks that was needed. Additionally, Marc-Edouard Vlasic narrowly missed the cut because I feel despite his tenure, he was never an incredibly dominant player.
5. Owen Nolan
In Oct. 1995 the Sharks dealt Sandis Ozolinsh to the newly-named Colorado Avalanche in exchange for right winger Owen Nolan. In his eight seasons in teal Nolan certainly made his mark, and his 568 games with the organization ranks 10th all-time
Nolan’s first two seasons in San Jose saw the Sharks miss the playoffs comfortably. However, his remaining seasons with the team were headlined by first- and second-round playoff appearances. This includes the 2000 NHL Playoffs in which Nolan had eight goals and 10 points in 10 games.
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All-time with the Sharks, Nolan ranks fifth in goals, eighth in assists, and sixth in points. However, Nolan’s grit and edge may be why more fans remember the 1990 first-overall pick more fondly. His 934 penalty minutes in San Jose ranks second only behind Jeff Odgers. Many may remember him for leveling Ed Belfour in the 1998 playoffs after netminder refused to re-sign in San Jose after the club made a large deal to acquire him.
Nolan eventually saw his time in San Jose draw to a close when the team dealt him at the 2003 NHL Trade Deadline to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He finished his career with 1,200 games played, 885 points, and 1793 penalty minutes. He had a remarkable run in San Jose, and will always be remembered fondly by Sharks fans. His five years as captain is the longest a single Sharks player has worn the ‘C’.
4. Evgeni Nabokov
In the ninth round of the 1994 NHL Draft, with the 219th-overall pick, the Sharks selected Russian netminder Evgeni Nabokov. It took until the 1999-2000 NHL Season for “Nabby” to make an NHL start, and the following season for the goalie to really leave his mark in San Jose.
Evgeni Nabokov was a quality starter in San Jose. His first season as the starter in 2000-01 season saw the netminder become one of sixteen goals, and the only Shark, to ever win the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year. Throughout his time in teal Nabokov had four seasons above 65 games played, and twice slotted into over 70 games.
In his nine seasons as a starter with San Jose, he saw the team to five Pacific Division titles, President’s Trophy, and personally received five Vezina Trophy nominations. The majority of his seasons in teal saw the Sharks the second round of the playoffs, including two Western Conference Finals appearances.
He finished his NHL career with 697 games played, a .911 save-percentage, and a singular NHL goal. Nabokov recently finished his first season as an NHL goalie coach, remaining with the Sharks franchise. He ranks first in games played and wins by a Sharks goalie, fourth in save-percentage, and second in goals-against-average.
3. Joe Pavelski
With the 205th-overall selection in the 2003 NHL Draft, the Sharks gambled on USHL forward Joe Pavelski. After an extra season with the Waterloo Black Hawks and two dominant years with the University of Wisconsin, Pavelski became a professional player and historic face in San Jose.
Pavelski is one of the best, if not the greatest, goal scorers San Jose has ever possessed. He posted four seasons with over 35 goals, including a 41 goal campaign in 2013-14. His 61 Stanley Cup Playoff goals are the most ever tallied by an American.
“Little Joe” transitioned into the “Big Pavelski” with his dominant regular season and playoff performances. His leadership saw him earn the captaincy in the 2015-16 season when the Sharks promptly reached their first and only Stanley Cup Final appearance.
His importance to the team was most felt in his final postseason with the Sharks. In the first round of the 2019 playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights, his injury sparked a controversial power play and the greatest comeback in Sharks history. His signing with the Dallas Stars the following offseason left a huge hole of goal scoring and leadership the Sharks have yet to replace and has led to the team’s recent decline.
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Pavelski sits fourth in games played with the Sharks, second in goals, and third in points and assists. His four full seasons as captain are tied with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for second longest tenure in Sharks history.
2. Patrick Marleau
Many would have “Patty” as the greatest Sharks player in history. Patrick Marleau comfortably finds himself as the Sharks leader in games played and goals, with a decent lead on Thornton in assists. And, after Marleau broke the record for most games played in NHL history, I though about slotting him into first place.
However, my hesitancy to place Marleau as the greatest Sharks player of all time is that I can rarely argue he was ever the best player on a given Sharks roster. Marleau led the Sharks in scoring twice in his career, less times than the other three forwards on the list. The 1997 second-overall pick was a constant in the team’s lineup, however I feel throughout his tenure he never proved to be a world class player.
Regardless, “Mr. Shark” has incredible history with the Sharks. Marleau has been part of all five Sharks teams to reach the third round of the playoffs. He hit the 30 goal mark seven times in his career, including 41 goals in 2009-10, seeing him to three All Star Game appearances. His constant presence on the team as seen him accrue the most playoff games and points in San Jose’s history.
However, Marleau will always be known for his incredible consistency and work ethic leading to his all-time games played record. The 41-year-old is yet to miss a game since the 2008-09 season, meaning he’s been remarkably healthy and strong for a player in their 30’s and now 40’s. This type of consistency is not only legendary in Sharks history, but NHL history.
It is unknown if any team, including the Sharks, will look to bring back Marleau for a 25th NHL season. But if this is the end for Patrick Marleau, he will surely have his number, 12, retired in San Jose and have great odds to become a Hall of Fame Player.
1. Joe Thornton
On Nov. 30, 2005, general manager Doug Wilson made the largest trade in San Jose history. For Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart, the Sharks received 1997 first-overall selection, Joe Thornton. The Boston Bruins were transitioning toward a younger core of talent, and decided to trade Thornton, who was off to a hot start to the season.
“Jumbo Joe” went onto win the Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies that season. He even helped Jonathon Cheechoo win the Rocket Richard Trophy, the only Shark to ever win that honor. Thornton went onto score the second most points in the NHL in 2006-07, and establish himself as the best playmaker in Sharks’ history, and one of the greatest in league history.
The 2010-11 season saw Thornton earn the captaincy, and the following playoffs he would score possibly his largest goal as a Shark. His overtime goal sent the team to the second round, and his sliding celebration remains an iconic moment in franchise history. He would hold the captaincy until the 2013-14 season.
Thornton was a large part of the more recent successes of the organization. He led San Jose in points for the 2015-16 season, and had 21 points through their 25 playoff games. He was just over a .5 point-per-game player in the 2018-19 season and playoffs from the third line.
Unfortunately, Thornton elected to try winning his first Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2020 offseason, and the gamble did not work out as they were bounced in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens. Thornton may return next season, trying to find more success in the playoffs.
Thornton leads San Jose in assists all-time, and is 56 points behind Marleau despite significantly less games played. He left a larger mark than Marleau, in my opinion, in his time in San Jose, and should go down as the greatest player in franchise history.
Who do you think is considered the best player in Sharks’ history? Let me know in the comments below.