Patrick Marleau has returned for his third go-around with the Sharks. Don't expect there to be a fourth.
It's not that San Jose's all-time leader in goals, points and games played couldn't remain in the NHL beyond next season. The No. 2 overall pick of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft certainly isn't the player he once was, but even at 41 years of age, Marleau can still move like one of the fastest players on the ice.
Rather, there are two main reasons Marleau -- in all likelihood -- won't ever play for another team. First and foremost, he belongs in teal. And secondly, if all goes as planned, he won't need to.
Though we don't know when next season will begin or how many games it will be comprised of, it seems quite likely that Marleau will have an opportunity to become the NHL's all-time leader in games played. With 1,723 career games under his belt, Marleau currently sits fifth on the all-time list, 44 games behind first-place Gordie Howe.
"I still love playing," Marleau told reporters Tuesday via videoconference. "I still love the competition. Still going after my dream of winning the Stanley Cup, and still able to get out there and play and have fun, and I think that's the thing that keeps me going. As far as the record with Gordie Howe, we'll see -- you never know what can happen. But if it does happen, that would be something pretty special, that's for sure."
Though Marleau now is breathing down Howe's neck, that's not what has compelled him to keep his career going.
"Not really," he said when asked if he's had his eye on breaking the record. "You try and take things a little bit -- the old cliche: One thing at a time -- you never know what's going to happen or things like that. The only time I've really thought about it in the past is when we get questions about it and things like that. But yeah, it would be something pretty special to do. Gordie being from Saskatchewan as well, it's my home province, so it would be kinda cool to have that connection with him."
Marleau finished this past season with the Pittsburgh Penguins after being traded there by the Sharks prior to the deadline. But in approaching his 23rd NHL season, he had his heart set on returning to where it all started.
"I didn't really look at too many other places," he said. "I was just trying to come back here, and I'm thankful that it all worked out."
As it turns out, that feeling was mutual. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson wasn't going to let Marleau break the record in another uniform.
"Well, it's important," Wilson explained. "He's one of the most iconic players in not only Sharks history, but the NHL's history. And if you look at his bio, it's truly incredible ... it's not just about this record, though. Patty is a competitor -- he wants to compete. He loves the game, because there's nobody that puts that amount of work into it if you don't really love it. And his elite-level fitness I think is inspiring to everybody, inspiring to our younger players.
"He may not say a lot, but he says an awful lot with his actions. And bringing him back into the room I think is important. And if he's going to set that record -- which is an incredible, incredible record -- it should be in a Sharks jersey."
Marleau was destined to be Mr. Shark when his career began. It's only right that he will conclude it accordingly.