San Jose

Marleau's Absence Looms Large as Sharks Welcome Maple Leafs

A former Shark will make his triumphant return to SAP Center on Monday night, alongside his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates, as his career appears to be winding down. Taking the ice will undoubtedly remind him of some great memories, including his role in the Sharks' first-ever run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016.

But enough about Roman Polak.

In case you've been off the grid since July, the real headline-grabber ahead of San Jose's matchup with Toronto is the homecoming of Mr. Shark himself, Patrick Marleau. He's only the longest-serving, highest-scoring, and arguably most-popular player in the team's 26-year history.

Those factors alone left massive skates for the Sharks to fill when Marleau signed with Toronto on July 2, but his on-ice production is missed even more at this point in the season.

His 27 goals in all situations were the third-most of any Sharks player last season. So, too, were his 20 goals at even strength. Without Marleau, the Sharks ranked 25th and 27th, respectively, in the league entering Sunday.

Logan Couture's picked up most of that load, and his eight goals through the first ten games of the season are one shy of Marleau's franchise record. Joonas Donskoi's chipped in, too, with three goals in his last five games, all at even strength.

That's about it, though. Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier, identified as young players whose growth would offset Marleau's departure, have combined for four goals this season, and Labanc scored just once since scoring two on opening night. Mikkel Boedker has one goal in 10 games.

The old standbys have started slowly, too. Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski, the only two Sharks that scored more than Marleau last year, have scored zero and two goals, respectively. Marleau, meanwhile, has four goals for the Maple Leafs this season, albeit just two since opening night.

San Jose's scoring slump is the biggest culprit behind their back-and-forth start to the season, and Marleau's absence has exacerbated that slump. After all, the Sharks weren't exactly a scoring juggernaut with Marleau on the roster last year, when their 219 goals ranked just 19th in the league.

It's far too early to say the Sharks erred in letting Marleau walk, but the risks of doing so have been on full display this season. A team that struggled to score last year lost one of its best scorers, chose to rely on internal options to take his place, and hasn't matched that production.

With 72 games left in the season, there's still plenty of time for that to happen. So far, it hasn't, and seeing Marleau suit up at SAP Center in another uniform on Monday will serve as a stark reminder.

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