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.” 

[RELATED: How Coyne Schofield broke barriers at NHL All-Star event]

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.

Mike Ricci opens up about his first month as Sharks assistant coach

Mike Ricci opens up about his first month as Sharks assistant coach

It’s not just a safe assumption. It’s entirely accurate that Mike Ricci, as a hockey player, never thought he’d become a coach.

“Not back then for sure,” Ricci said recently. “Not even maybe two and a half weeks ago.”

The former Sharks forward was caught off guard by being named as an assistant on interim head coach Bob Boughner’s staff in mid-December.

“It was like boom, told to come to a meeting,” Ricci recalled.  

But there was no reservation in accepting the position.

“When a friend asks, and a boss asks, you’ve got to do it,” said Ricci. “Just going in and trying to do whatever I can to help this team win.”

All of this is a total change of scenery for Ricci – who after 1,099 NHL games as a player -- still hasn’t acclimated to his brand new perch behind the bench.

“If I’m going to be honest, I really haven’t had time to think about it,” Ricci admitted.  

The move was so fresh, and came with so much transition, Sharks equipment manager Mike Aldrich even had to double check that regular game duties would include a presence behind the players.  To which Ricci responded: “I think so…?”

As if the Sharks' need to turn things around wasn’t pressing enough, there’s also the challenge of Ricci learning the ropes of being an assistant coach for the very first time.

“You’ve got to find what makes everybody click,” Ricci said after less than a month of experiences. “Some guys like to see it. Some guys like to hear it. Some guys like it drawn on a board.”

One thing benefitting Ricci, goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov, and associate coach Roy Sommer is their familiarity and unquestioned dedication to the franchise. Each have been sporting teal for more than a decade, in one capacity or another.

[RELATED: Boughner urges Sharks to 'man up']

Ricci said there’s already a built-in level of trust when the coaching staff has to be critical of players, in trying to reverse the team’s struggles.

“I try to be myself, more than anything. It doesn’t matter how much I know, it matters how much I can get to a player.”

NHL rumors: Doug Wilson won't disrupt Sharks' core at trade deadline


NHL rumors: Doug Wilson won't disrupt Sharks' core at trade deadline

If you're in favor of the Sharks making a splashy move to shake things up ahead of the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline, we've got bad news for you.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported earlier this week that Sharks general manager Doug Wilson "has let it be known he is not interested in disrupting his core."

That presumably means players like Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are staying put.

But Friedman notes that there will be interest in Melker Karlsson and Brenden Dillon, who are both unrestricted free agents after this season.

With the playoffs looking less and less likely for San Jose, it would make sense for Wilson to try to get something for Karlsson and Dillon.

The Sharks don't have a first, fourth or sixth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, so it would be wise for Wilson to recoup some of the assets he traded away in recent years.

After losing in the Western Conference final to the St. Louis Blues, the Sharks have fallen on hard times. They enter Saturday's game against Vancouver with a 21-24-4 record and sit nine points out of a wild-card spot. On Thursday night, they were shutout by the Avalanche in Colorado and interim head coach Bob Boughner urged his players to "man up."

[RELATED: Ricci on first month as coach]

At the moment, the Sharks are close to the upper limit of the NHL salary cap, but they will have roughly $18 million coming off the books this summer, according to Cap Friendly, so as Friedman notes, Wilson will have the flexibility to make moves in the offseason.

The Sharks are in desperate need of a wake-up call. But it sounds like it won't come in February.