Sharks

Sharks jersey retirements: Why Patrick Marleau should be honored first

Sharks jersey retirements: Why Patrick Marleau 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 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.  

[RELATED: Sharks reportedly 'don't want' reunion with Marleau next year]

Verdict

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

Watch Sharks' Joe Thornton, Capitals' Tom Wilson talk trash on benches

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AP

Watch Sharks' Joe Thornton, Capitals' Tom Wilson talk trash on benches

The ice got a little hot Tuesday night in San Jose. Towards the end of the Sharks' 5-2 blowout loss against the Capitals, tempers began to flare. 

Sharks winger Evander Kane was ejected for elbowing Washington defenseman Radko Gudas in the head with slightly over five minutes left in the third period. Gudas' teammates Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin each took exception, with Wilson hitting Kane. 

Kane and Wilson were seen chirping all the way to their respective benches, with Kane exiting the game.

It didn't stop there, too. Sharks center Joe Thornton chimed in before Wilson hit him with a "kiss the ring" comeback. 

[RELATED: Kane fined $5K for elbowing Gudas in Sharks' blowout loss]

Kane avoided suspension, but received the maximum fine of $5,000 for his hit on Gudas. 

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Sharks must handle challenging road trip better than last time around

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AP

Sharks must handle challenging road trip better than last time around

Just four days into December, the Sharks are facing a new level of adversity. They suffered a disappointing loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night and are dealing with some injuries at forward that are keeping the position in flux.

To top it all off, San Jose is about to begin a four-game road trip, three games of which are against Eastern Conference teams. And the last time the Sharks went on a roadie out east, things didn't exactly go well.

In order for the Sharks to keep their good fortunes going, they must pass this test.

"Good teams, tough buildings, a big test," head coach Peter DeBoer said after Tuesday's loss when asked about the upcoming trip. "Our last time on an extended trip we didn't handle it well. So, hopefully, we're in a different place this time."

When you look at the big picture, the Sharks are in a better place than they were at the end of October, when they went 1-3-1 on their east-coast swing. San Jose staged a big rebound in November, showing it could win games in different ways and stand toe-to-toe with just about anyone. After going 4-8-1 in October, the Sharks went 11-4-0 in November and reinserted themselves back into the pack with the other competitive Pacific Division teams.

Nevertheless, the Sharks' upcoming trip -- which kicks off Thursday in Carolina against the Hurricanes and includes a back-to-back against the Lightning and Panthers -- isn't going to be a cakewalk. After the rough outing San Jose's defense had Tuesday against the Capitals, the trip looks even more daunting.

"It's not getting any easier," Brenden Dillon admitted Tuesday. "We're going into some tough buildings. A couple of back-to-backs here with Tampa and Florida. I think we're seeing if we don't play to our identity, if we don't play the right way, what happens."

The Sharks' defense isn't the only area of concern following the loss to Washington. San Jose was starting to see some production from its bottom six at the end of November, but injuries to Tomas Hertl and Antti Suomela are forcing the Sharks to shuffle up their lines yet again. Even with fourth-liners Dylan Gambrell and Noah Gregor finding their stride and contributing more, San Jose's mission to have a four-line team on the ice every night remains an ongoing project.

[RELATED: Kane fined $5K for elbowing Gudas in Sharks' blowout loss]

This isn't to say that the Sharks can't rebound from their loss to the Capitals and have a successful road trip. Their resilience was on display just last week when they bounced back from a tough loss to the Jets to win back-to-back games against the Kings and Coyotes. Plus, Carolina is the only team on the trip that currently has more points than San Jose, and the Hurricanes have lost three of their last four games, including a 2-0 shutout at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. 

Still, though, the Sharks can't afford to play as they did against the Caps on their upcoming road trip. San Jose is about to encounter a major test, and class is in session starting Thursday.