For only the second time in his 22-year NHL career, Patrick Marleau will take the ice at SAP Center as a visiting player when the Sharks host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. San Jose's all-time leader in points, goals and games played was shipped to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, but only after showing the entire league that he still has plenty left in the tank.
That much was evident from his first game back in a Sharks uniform on Oct. 10. San Jose had dropped its first four games of the season, and turned to a very familiar face for a jumpstart. Marleau, who had recently been bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes, was ready and waiting.
"During the beginning of the season when we were struggling, the highlight was when we signed him and he came in -- I think it was the Chicago game -- I think he scored two that night," Sharks interim coach Bob Boughner said following Saturday's morning skate. "I think it got our team out of that rut we were in at the start of the season. He played some great hockey for us. He was used throughout the lineup in different situations, different lines and he's just a consistent performer. I think that's why Pittsburgh obviously reached out and grabbed him. You know what you're getting from him every night. He's a responsible player, and more than anything, he sets a great example for the young guys. It'll be nice to see him back playing in the game tonight."
The Penguins acquired Marleau as part of their playoff push. The Sharks, meanwhile, will not qualify for the postseason, and will use the remainder of the regular season to give more opportunities to younger players, who no longer have Marleau around to model themselves after. The 58 games many of them did spend with him, though, left a lasting impact.
"It was unreal," rookie defenseman Mario Ferraro recalled of Marleau's unexpected arrival. "You come to the team and you've got [Joe Thornton] on the team, and then not even a month later, you've got Patty Marleau coming in. He's just a veteran guy that's been in the league a long time. He's had a lot of accomplishments and he's done a lot of great things with his career. It's just special to see what he's capable of doing still at the age of 40, and for me to be able to be on the same team as him is a privilege. It's really special. It's something I'll never forget as a young player. When I get older, I'll be able to say I played with a Hall of Famer."
The one major thing missing from Marleau's Hall of Fame resume is a Stanley Cup, and he's in a great spot to pursue one with a very deep and talented Penguins team. Entering Saturday night, Marleau is 50 games away from tying Gordie Howe's all-time NHL record for games played (1,767), a milestone Sharks captain Logan Couture believes is well within reach.
"I believe he can," Couture said of Marleau's ability to play another season. "I think he can still play at this level and be effective and contribute. Certain minutes, whether it's third, fourth line or on the second power play, he still knows how to score goals and go to the right areas. He's still an effective player in my mind."
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Couture regrets that he didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Marleau in-person following the trade, but he did reach out to him over the phone. They've spent parts of nine seasons together as teammates in San Jose, and Couture wouldn't mind if that turned into a decade.
"I would love to have Patty back," Couture said. "Unfortunately, it's not my call. I realize this is a business and Doug [Wilson] is going to do whatever he can to make our team successful next season. So, if Patty's here, we'll be happy to have him. If not, and he's playing somewhere else, we'll be pulling for him until we play him."
"Happy that he's on a team that has a chance to make the playoffs," Couture added. "I'll be cheering for him every night but tonight."