SAN JOSE – Patrick Marleau is emphatic. The 37-year-old forward, a pending unrestricted free agent in the last year of a three-year deal with the Sharks, wants to keep going after this season.
“Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah,” he said on Wednesday, when asked if he’d like to extend his career into what would be a 20th NHL season.
There’s little doubt he’ll be able to do it, whether that’s in San Jose or elsewhere. Although he’s no longer the offensive force he used to be, the Sharks’ all-time leading scorer has shown in the early going that he can still be an effective player. He has three goals and one assist through his first 10 games, playing on the left wing of the Sharks’ third line, and could have several more goals and points. He’s fourth on the team with 28 shots, trailing only Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture.
Against the Coyotes on Tuesday, a 3-2 Sharks loss in Glendale, Marleau was arguably San Jose’s best forward. He scored a first period goal and finished with four shots and a plus-two rating.
“I’ve liked his game through the first 10,” Pete DeBoer said. “I think he’s been one of our better players. He’s consistently generated chances. He could easily have four or five goals right now with the chances he’s generated. He’s worked hard.”
Marleau, playing with Tomas Hertl and Melker Karlsson on the third line for the past four games, said: ‘It’s one thing to get chances – got [a goal] last night. Building some chemistry with the linemates, and hopefully the chances keep coming.”
Marleau is in the midst of transitioning into what seems to a reduced role. He is averaging 16:42 of ice time per game, down about two-and-a-half minutes from last season’s average of 19:01. He remains on the top power play unit but no longer kills penalties.
He’s also no longer a center, as the Sharks have chosen to put either Hertl or Chris Tierney in the middle of the third line, or a top six forward, as Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker have bumped him down the lineup. Meanwhile, other younger players like former first-round pick Timo Meier could push their way onto the roster at some point in the near future.
So far, there are absolutely no indications that Marleau is unhappy, unlike this time a year ago when it became public that he was seeking a trade. There were a few more suggestions late in the year, too, that perhaps not all was hunky dory.
Speaking before Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, when asked about Marleau moving from third line center to third line wing, DeBoer said: “You balance, 'are you better as a team,' and 'is the individual better?' That's the balance. I'm not here to make Patrick Marleau feel good. We're here to win games, and we're going to put him wherever we feel we have to [in order to] win games.”
On Wednesday, Marleau said that any suggestions he wasn’t on the same page with the head coach last year were “blown out of proportion. We had a talk. He never said anything and I never said anything, so…”
DeBoer said: “I don’t remember saying there was a disagreement with his role. Whenever you play on a good team you’re asked to make sacrifices. Whether we’re asking you to play out of position, asking you to play more of a depth role, asking you to sacrifice some ice time – penalty killing, or things like that. That’s something that everybody has to buy in to.
“I think Patrick hasn’t had as issue with those things. You don’t expect everybody to like those things, but I think he understands the greater good theory here that we’re trying to use.”
As for Marleau extending his career in a Sharks sweater, that’s something that likely won’t be decided or announced until the season is over. It doesn’t appear to be something that’s weighing heavily on Marleau’s mind at the moment, either.
“Just focusing on hockey right now,” he said.