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 conclude with Patrick Marleau.
Patrick Marleau saw it all in a Sharks uniform.
Selected No. 2 overall in the 1997 NHL Draft, Marleau joined San Jose as a 17-year-old. The Sharks had just followed up their first two Stanley Cup playoff appearances with back-to-back finishes in the Western Conference basement.
They returned to the playoffs in Marleau’s rookie season, and only would miss out on the postseason twice during his 19 seasons in San Jose. Over his ensuing 1,670 regular-season and playoff games with the Sharks, Marleau climbed to the top of San Jose’s goal-scoring and points lists.
He was the captain, and then he wasn’t. He was criticized for his playoff performances, and then he scored series-clinching goals that sent the Sharks to the Western Conference final in back-to-back postseasons. Through it all, Marleau was a fixture in San Jose and remained synonymous with the franchise even after he left as a free agent in 2017.
Let’s examine the case for, and against, the Sharks retiring Marleau’s No. 12 jersey first.
The case for
When Marleau signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs two summers ago, nobody had played more games, scored more goals or compiled more points in a Sharks uniform. Joe Thornton now is within striking distance of Marleau’s regular-season and playoff points records, but Marleau's total games-played mark should stand for at least another handful of seasons.
Although his Sharks peak fell just shy of Thornton's, Marleau was pretty damn good in teal. He scored at least 25 goals in 12 seasons, at least 30 in seven, at least 35 in four and 40-plus once (44 in 2009-10). No San Jose player has more 25-, 30- or 40-goal seasons to their name.
Marleau also is one of 21 players to score 500 goals with a single franchise. Only six players have played more games with one team than Marleau. He’s known as “Mr. Shark” for a reason, and even Thornton has said Marleau will “go down as the best Shark of all-time.”
He also remains beloved. Marleau received a five-minute standing ovation in his first return to San Jose, and drew loud cheers in his second. Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews revealed a No. 12 Marleau sweater under his jersey during this year’s NHL All-Star Skills Competition in San Jose, and got one of the biggest reactions of the weekend -- and Marleau wasn’t even there to hear it.
The case against
We’re nitpicking here, but let’s try anyway. For one, Marleau did wear two numbers in San Jose, although you’re far more likely to see No. 12 sweaters at SAP Center than the No. 14 he rocked for four seasons.
Marleau’s franchise records are a testament to his longevity, but he wasn’t necessarily as dominant as Thornton or some of his other teammates. He never finished on a First or Second All-Star team at the end of a season, and was a top 10 finisher for the Hart and Selke Trophies just three times.
While Marleau and Thornton shouldered a disproportionate share of the blame for the Sharks’ playoff disappointments, it’s worth noting that Marleau only led San Jose in postseason points in four playoff runs. Of those, the Sharks won a playoff series in just two.
Marleau was warmly received in his return to San Jose, but he left by his own volition in the first place. His Toronto tenure will be a blip on the radar of his career, yet Marleau won’t retire as a one-franchise player no matter where he plays this season.
This is a no-brainer. Marleau’s No. 12 should be the first the Sharks retire, and they shouldn’t wait long to do it. He could play anywhere else and he still will be remembered as a Shark, if not the Shark.
But as we outlined Thursday, Thornton arguably has a better claim to the honor than his longtime teammate. But even though Thornton stayed in San Jose and Marleau did not when both hit free agency in 2017, their Sharks careers are forever linked.
Because of this, it makes perfect sense for the Sharks to simultaneously retire both numbers. They came into the NHL together as the top two picks in the 1997 draft, played on a line together for years and are going to retire as first and second in games played with the franchise.
There might not be a better tribute to both players.
Which Sharks should have their jersey retired first?
The case for -- and against -- Evgeni Nabokov's jersey retirement
The case for -- and against -- Owen Nolan's jersey retirement
The case for -- and against -- Joe Pavelski's jersey retirement
The case for -- and against -- Joe Thornton's jersey retirement