Sharks

Sharks jersey retirements: Why Owen Nolan should be honored first

nolanap.jpg
AP

Sharks jersey retirements: Why Owen Nolan should be honored first

Editor’s Note: The Sharks are the only team in the Pacific Division -- other than the nascent Vegas Golden Knights -- who have not raised the jersey of a former player to the rafters. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the cases of the five likeliest candidates to have the Sharks’ first retired number. We continue with former captain Owen Nolan. 

Owen Nolan owns a couple of “firsts” in Sharks history, but none are as cool as being on the cover of a video game. 

Nolan became the first Shark to score 80-plus points and 40-plus goals in a single season when he scored 84 and 44, respectively, during the 1999-00 season. He ranked sixth and second in the NHL in those categories that season, leading San Jose to a first-round upset of the President’s Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

That season landed the power forward on the cover of EA Sports’ “NHL 2001” the following fall, making him the first San Jose player to earn a spot on the box of either EA Sports’ annual game or 2K Sports’ now-defunct “NHL 2K” series. Joe Thornton followed in Nolan’s footsteps -- landing on the “NHL 2K7” cover -- but Nolan was, in many ways, the Sharks’ first real star. 

Let’s examine the case for, and against, retiring Nolan’s No. 11 jersey first. 

The case for

Nolan became the first Sharks player to appear in multiple All-Star Games while playing for San Jose, and he still ranks second in franchise history -- behind defenseman Brent Burns -- with four All-Star appearances. He also captained the team for parts of five seasons, and only Patrick Marleau can say the same. 

From Nolan’s first game with the Sharks (Oct. 28, 1995) until his last (March 1, 2003), he scored more goals (206) than all but 26 NHL players and more points (451) than all but 38. That might not seem gaudy, but Pat Falloon, San Jose’s leading scorer in the four seasons prior to Nolan’s midseason arrival during the 1995-96 season, tied for 126th in the NHL in points (159) in the aforementioned pre-Nolan era.

He led the Sharks as they transitioned from annual also-ran into perennial playoff contender, captaining the first team in franchise history to win a division title in 2001-02 and just the third to even win a playoff series in 1999-2000. San Jose would not advance to the Western Conference Final until 2003-04 -- a year after Nolan was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs -- but the Sharks’ success with Nolan wearing the “C” helped lay the foundation. 

By the time Nolan left the Sharks, he had 101 more points and 57 more goals than any other player in franchise history. He was the most impactful player in San Jose’s first decade and change, and that’s worth honoring. 

The case against

It’s not Nolan’s fault, but he has since been surpassed on the Sharks’ all-time lists. He now ranks fifth in goals -- behind Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Thornton and Logan Couture -- and sixth in points. He understandably has fallen down the games-played chart, too, and Tomas Hertl needs to play 164 games over his remaining three years under contract to push Nolan out of the top 10. 

Nolan is right around there on the Sharks’ playoff points list, tying for ninth in goals (15) and ranking 13th in points (27) in San Jose’s postseason history. His tenure marked a turning point for the franchise, but he was never able to advance out of the second round in five playoff appearances in teal. One player does not make a team, but other Sharks have come closer to ending the franchise’s Stanley Cup drought. 

Jersey retirements do not, and should not, have a higher standard than Hockey Hall of Fame induction, but some of Nolan’s successors accomplished more and over a longer period of time than he did in San Jose. Although he seems like a lock for a jersey retirement at some point, it’s fair to wonder if he should be first in line. 

[RELATED: Sharks fans vote original teal as franchise's best-ever jersey]

Verdict

For a certain generation of Sharks fans, Nolan is why they fell in love with the team. The called shot in the 1997 All-Star Game, the center-ice slap shot in Game 7 against the Blues in 2000 and Nolan’s presence on the “NHL 2001” cover all contribute to a largely unmatched legacy in San Jose. 

But a few players have exceeded his accomplishments as a Shark, and are better candidates to get their number retired first. That discrepancy can largely be chalked up to timing, as Nolan just happened to precede an era in which San Jose joined the NHL’s elite. 

Nolan’s Sharks tenure is an important milestone on the journey, however, and one that ultimately should be honored with his No. 11 jersey hanging in SAP Center’s rafters. It just won’t be the first one.

Which Sharks should have their jersey retired first?

The case for -- and against -- Evgeni Nabokov's jersey retirement

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.”

[RELATED: Thornton reportedly could play in Switzerland before NHL season]

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.