Mike Babcock, recently terminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs, spoke to the media approximately a month ago, giving praise to former player Patrick Marleau, and commenting that Marleau’s goal is to break Gordie Howe’s games-played record.
Marleau, using his wife Christina’s twitter account, was very quick to set the record straight: his one and only goal is a Stanley Cup – something he has yet to achieve in his 21 seasons.
While I don’t doubt Marleau’s number one goal is to win a Stanley Cup, it’s hard to imagine that breaking Howe’s record isn’t also on his mind. After all, it’s not often modern-day players have a chance to break an all-time NHL record.
While Marleau has had an undeniably impressive career, he currently lacks the individual hardware that may be required for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He has not won or even been a finalist for any individual award, has no first or second team all-star appearances, and as mentioned, has not won a Stanley Cup.
Marleau’s career is comparable to Pierre Turgeon or Dave Andreychuk in terms of consistently good – but never league-leading – producers with long careers. Andreychuk, who has a Stanley Cup, waited a lengthy 11 years after his retirement before being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017. Turgeon, who never won a Stanley Cup, remains outside the Hall 12 years after his retirement. While Marleau’s current career would likely place him right at the cut-off for the Hall of Fame, another “piece” would solidify his chances.
That piece will have to be an individual award (not happening at age 40), a Stanley Cup (possible, but the Sharks have an uphill battle), or breaking the all time NHL games-played record.
Of the three, the all time NHL games played record feels like the most probable. At time of writing, Marleau is 88 games, just over one full season, away from passing Mr. Hockey’s games played. Marleau, even late into his career, has shown his durability – not missing a game he’s been eligible to play in for over 800 games – a feat only six players have accomplished, ever. If he can continue to stay injury-free, he only needs this current season, plus 32 games next, to claim the record.
San Jose Sharks Give Him a Chance
After being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes from the Toronto Maple Leafs for the purpose of a buyout last season, Marleau was left without a contract. While multiple teams expressed interest in him after a respectable 16 goal, 21 assist, 37 point stat line during the 2018-19 season, he signed in maybe the most fitting location: San Jose.
Marleau began his career with the San Jose Sharks after being drafted second overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. He played 19 seasons with the Sharks (prior to heading to Toronto), and leads the franchise in all time goals, shots, and points.
Marleau Continues to Perform at 40
Through 22 games this season, Marleau has scored five goals and added five assists for 10 points. Adjusted to an 82 game pace, this would repeat last season’s 37 points. Marleau, who only has one power play point, is primarily contributing at even strength. During 5-on-5 play, on a points per 60 basis, Marleau (1.59 points/60) is ahead of teammates Joe Thornton (1.33), Brent Burns (1.28), and Evander Kane (1.28).
During 5-on-5 play this year, Marleau has the best goals for share of any Shark, at 52.4%. His underlying numbers haven’t been great – but neither have the Sharks as a whole. While his 46.3% Corsi for percentage is somewhat worrying, his relative high danger scoring chances for percentage is positive at 1.22%, suggesting the Sharks generate a higher share of high danger scoring chances when he is on the ice than when he is off it.
The sample size of Marleau being back in a Sharks sweater is still relatively small, but he certainly has been contributing to the team. At a league minimum salary, a 37 point pace is great – for any age. He has also historically been known as a great leader in the locker room, and I’m sure the Sharks are enjoying his veteran presence.
While players can decline quickly towards the end of their career, Marleau is certainly playing at an NHL level. Considering his consistency and durability over his career, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be a valuable contributor to a team in the 2020-21 season – maybe even beyond.
Where Will Marleau Break the Games-Played Record?
If Marleau does choose to play another season, would the Sharks want him? The team has commented multiple times that they want to integrate their younger players into the roster, setting up the team for the future. While the franchise certainly loves Marleau, they only appeared to truly reach out to the veteran this year after an 0-4 start to the season, as well as injuries, derailed their original plan.
An equally important question, would he want to play an additional season with the Sharks? As previously stated, the veteran’s number one goal is winning a Stanley Cup. While the Sharks’ roster is certainly a contender on paper, Marleau may have to assess his options and see if another team gives him a better chance of reaching that goal. At a league-minimum salary, his 37-point-pace production would be welcomed by multiple teams – especially if they are seeking an experienced leader.
Regardless of where he plays next year, Marleau is well on pace to break Gordie Howe’s all times games played record, should he choose to do so.