How Auston Matthews made Patrick Marleau star of NHL All-Star Skills

How Auston Matthews made Patrick Marleau star of NHL All-Star Skills

SAN JOSE -- On the night before the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, Auston Matthews had an idea. 

The Toronto Maple Leafs superstar, voted as captain of the Atlantic Division team by fans, was set to participate in the accuracy shooting portion of the event. Once it was his turn, he would take off his blue No. 34 Maple Leafs sweater to reveal another. 

A white No. 12 Patrick Marleau, in the building where the former Shark made his name. 

“I thought it was a pretty good idea,” Matthews said Friday night. “Last night, I was at dinner with my family and just kind of thought about it. Lucky enough, they were able to make up a jersey quick this morning and have it ready for me when I went out there.”

Matthews put his surprise sweater on during the intermission between the third and fourth events of the night at SAP Center. It was a good call, he said, because he was getting hot wearing two jerseys at the same time until the final event. 

When it finally was Matthews’ turn to shoot, the SAP Center crowd rose to its feet once the 21-year-old’s tribute became clear.

“It was amazing, I wasn’t expecting that,” Matthews said. “I think that’s just a testament to how much of a legend he really is here. It’s pretty amazing, and everything he’s done for the city of San Jose in his career here.” 

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Marleau remains the Sharks' franchise leader in just about every category, and No. 12 jerseys still can be found among the home crowd on any given night. His former teammates still rave about him, too.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said he didn’t immediately realize what Matthews was doing, until former San Jose teammate and current NBC Sports broadcaster Jeremy Roenick clued him in. Once Pavelski knew, he was cheering along with everyone else.

“Incredible,” Pavelski told reporters. “I looked at [Sharks teammate Brent Burns] and was like, ‘We gotta get a picture with him.’ We probably should have turned him around, we just wanted [Marleau’s] name on the back.

“Patty means a lot to everyone who’s come through this organization, and he’s left his mark …  I think it was pretty cool of [Matthews] to do that.”

Marleau means a lot to Matthews as well. Matthews, along with young Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner, have developed strong bonds with the 39-year-old during his Toronto tenure. In parts of two seasons, Marleau has become a popular figure in the Leafs dressing room, as his teammates see what made him one in San Jose. 

On Friday, the crowd's support quickly turned to nerves, Matthews said. He briefly skated away before hitting the fifth and final target. Ultimately, he completed the event in nearly 36 seconds, finishing eighth among his All-Star competitors.

Still, Mathews said Marleau was appreciative of the sweater swap, even if he initially was kept in the dark.

“No, I didn’t [tell Marleau ahead of time],” Matthews said. “I try not to bother him. I know he’s on vacation. But he texted me when I get off the ice, and just said, ‘Thanks, that was awesome.’ 

“I can’t explain how great of a guy he is, and how close we are in our relationship. He’s just an unbelievable person.”

Based on their reaction Friday, Sharks fans couldn’t agree more.

Ex-Shark Patrick Marleau, Penguins eliminated in NHL qualifying round

Ex-Shark Patrick Marleau, Penguins eliminated in NHL qualifying round

Sharks legend Patrick Marleau might have had his last decent chance to win a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL restart. Hopefully he gets another opportunity, because it ain't happening this year.

The fifth-seeded Penguins were stunned and upset by the 12-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round after the Habs advanced to the playoffs with a 3-1 series victory on Friday. Pittsburgh lost Game 1 and was never able to recover, thanks in large part to Montreal goalie Carey Price.

The Penguins scored just eight goals in the series, none of which were deposited by Marleau. In fact, the long-time Shark didn't record a single point across the four games. The Penguins acquired him at the trade deadline in exchange for what is now confirmed to be a 2021 third-round draft pick, as San Jose wanted to give him an opportunity to check that last box on his career résumé.

Marleau now will become an unrestricted free agent. It has been widely presumed that if he indeed returns for a 23rd NHL season, it might come in a third go-around with the Sharks. San Jose finished dead last in the Western Conference this season, but the Sharks' record was largely impacted by injuries and they certainly could return to the playoffs next year.

Really, it would only be fitting if Marleau ended his career in teal.

As for the Sharks, the qualifying round has gone nearly as well as they could have hoped for. Of the four Pacific Division teams that were involved, only the Edmonton Oilers failed to advance.

Due to the wacky 2020 NHL draft lottery, each team eliminated in the qualifying round has a 12.5 percent chance to land the No. 1 overall pick. Whichever team lands it is widely expected to use it on consensus top prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl 'finally back' on ice after tearing ACL, MCL]

So, there's an 87.5 percent chance -- barring trades -- that Lafreniere won't immediately end up in the Sharks' division.

Given the season they had, they'll take any win they can get.

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

It's not clear when the Sharks will play next.

One star took a big step towards rejoining them when they do.

Tomas Hertl posted a video Wednesday on his Instagram of him skating in his native Czech Republic, writing that he was "[f]inally back" on the ice.

View this post on Instagram

Finally back 🏒 @filipchlapik @hertlik89

A post shared by Tomas Hertl (@hertlik48) on

Hertl, 26, tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in January and missed the final 18 games of the Sharks' season before it was suspended -- and, ultimately, ended -- due to the coronavirus pandemic. The center injured his knee on Jan. 29 against the Vancouver Canucks, just four days after playing in his first All-Star Game. 

The 2012 first-round pick was one of the lone bright spots in the Sharks' otherwise dreary season, scoring 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games. San Jose generated 56.76 percent of the expected goals and 54.38 percent of the high-danger chances with Hertl on the ice at full strength, according to Natural Stat Trick, and Hertl himself accounted for his highest rate of 5-on-5 expected goals (0.95 per hour) of any season other than his rookie year.

Hertl said in May that he expected to be ready to start the 2020-21 season, no matter when that is.

"I want to be there for my team, and that’s why I have been working every day for four months even with the season so far away," Hertl said at the time. "My next goal is getting back and being better than before. I know I can do it. I have to give it everything I can to get back.”

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Hertl's return to the ice marks an offseason milestone for the forward, who's signed through 2022.

He and his wife, Aneta, announced last month that they're expecting a baby in November.