Marleau still believes in Sharks' future after rough season

USA Today

Few players are as revered among Sharks fans as center Patrick Marleau. The 40-year-old has played 20 seasons with San Jose over two tenures with the club, and is the franchise's all-time leader in games played, points and goals.

Marleau came back to the organization as a free agent in 2019 after two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, hoping to help lead the Sharks to their fifth-straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the Sharks took a major step back this season, finishing in last place in the Pacific Division and missing out on being one of the 24 NHL teams chosen for the league's playoff restart after the coronavirus pandemic paused the season.

Seeing that San Jose wasn't going to contend, the organization dealt Marleau to the Pittsburgh Penguins in February, hoping to give him a chance to win his first championship. But while he didn't finish the season with San Jose, Marleau still has confidence in the future of the organization.

“There was a lot of things going on,” Marleau told The Athletic's Kevin Kurz. “Obviously, I came in late to training camp. It’s quite a different group of guys than even just from the short time that I had been away (for two seasons in Toronto).

“But it has all the makings of a really good, contending club. I think we ran into some injury trouble there, as well. But I think as a team and playing together and getting a system down — we had a coaching change, as well. I think there was a lot of growth for our young guys last year, and some growth for the older guys, realizing what it’s going to have to take to become a playoff team again and to make ourselves contenders again. It’s not too far removed obviously (from 2019) and how far they went.”

[RELATED: Marleau, family have emotional goodbye before NHL restart]

Marleau and the Penguins were eliminated in the Qualifying Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens, so the veteran still is seeking his first title after two decades in the NHL. Some have pondered whether Marleau will retire from the league after such a lengthy career, but a tweet by his wife following the Penguins' exit seems to indicate otherwise.

Marleau is just 45 games away from setting the NHL's all-time games played record held by Gordie Howe, so another season almost certainly would help him set the record.

As NBC Sports California's Brian Witt argued back in early August after the Penguins' elimination, it would be fitting for Marleau to set the record in a San Jose uniform after two decades with the organization.

Either way, Marleau arguably is the greatest player in franchise history, and will be a lock fo the Sharks' Hall of Fame whenever he elects to hang up his skates.