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

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

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USATSI

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

The Sharks' 2019-20 season came to an end on March 11, and the 2020-21 NHL season might not start until December. So what are the players not participating in the NHL restart to do during that six-month hiatus?

Joe Thornton might play hockey in Switzerland. Really. Seriously.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman first reported Friday that the 22-year NHL veteran could take advantage of a new clause implemented by the NHL and NHLPA.

"Every August, [Thornton] goes to Switzerland," Friedman said on "Hockey Night In Canada" on Saturday. "Now we know the Sharks won't be playing until December and the NHL and the NHLPA have allowed players to sign overseas with out-clauses to come back then. One of the storylines to watch in the summer, over the next month, does Joe Thornton sign overseas in Switzerland to play and be ready and in better shape, even to return to the NHL for his 23rd season, whenever it begins."

The Athletic's Kevin Kurz confirmed Saturday the possibility of Thornton playing in Switzerland until the 2020-21 season begins.

Thornton is an unrestricted free agent, and has made it clear he wants to play in the NHL for a few more years. Lacing up his skates in Switzerland could be a good way for the 41-year-old center to stay in shape.

The Sharks finished the 2019-20 season with the worst record in the Western Conference and have several restricted and unrestricted free agents they will try to re-sign. General manager Doug Wilson and the Sharks front office have just under $15 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

It's unclear at this point if the Sharks plan to bring Thornton back for a 16th season with the franchise, but captain Logan Couture told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil in March that he hopes the stoppage caused by the coronavirus pandemic will allow Thornton to return for another season.

[RELATED: Ex-Sharks to root for in NHL restart]

“I look at this selfishly for Jumbo, hoping that he does come back with us next year," Couture told Brazil. “You know it saves an extra 12 games on those legs and that body of wear and tear, I know he’s gonna get a little bit older, but I think saving some time on that body will help us if he does come back with the Sharks, which I know we’re all hoping that he does.”

Thornton's future with the Sharks is unclear at the moment, but it looks like he'll be skating around an ice rink in Switzerland soon.

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks winger Evander Kane has been one of the most outspoken individuals in recent months in discussing the systemic racism that has plagued not only the country, but specifically the sport he has played his entire life. 

He recently was named co-head of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, whose mission is to "eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey," and appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Race in America: A Candid Conversation," in which he called for athletes to use their platforms for the greater good and not "stick to sports."

In a league that has extremely little minority representation, Kane is one of the relatively few current NHL players who can directly speak to the prevalence of systemic racism within the sport of hockey. As he explained on a recent episode of the NHL's "Soul on Ice" podcast with Kwame Damon Mason, he was exposed to it from the very beginning.

"I think it's engrained in you at a really young age," Kane told Mason. "Hockey is such a team sport, and you learn that when you first put your skates on and are a member of your first team. It's all about the team first, and those types of things are preached. And that's one of the great parts about hockey, is it is a team sport, and you understand that's what you sign up for.

"At the same time, the messaging -- especially in Canada -- that goes along with that is kind of conforming to what everybody else is doing. Individuality and personality is looked at -- especially as a minority player -- in a negative light. It's looked at as an issue. There's some sort of internal, maybe subconscious bias that not only players have, but parents, coaches, etc., and it's unfortunate."

Kane broke into the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers after being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. But when the Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets in his third NHL season, he encountered an environment similar to the one he described.

"I came into the league with a lot of personality," Kane continued. "Always been a great teammate coming through Junior and so on and so forth. I get to Atlanta, things are fine, things are good, I have my first couple of years in the NHL. And then we get to Winnipeg and it's crazy to me, because for the first time, I felt like I couldn't be myself. I became paranoid with everything I said or did, and really to me, it kind of pushed me into a corner where I felt I couldn't do or say what I wanted to do as a grown man at that point."

[RELATED: Kane discusses NHL's 'Hockey is for Everyone' movement]

Kane was traded from Winnipeg to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, and -- almost exactly three years later -- was traded from Buffalo to San Jose. Ultimately, he ended up in a situation where he doesn't feel his individuality is restricted or seen as a negative.

"Now, I've definitely grown out of that -- that's expired," Kane added. "And I'm part of an organization and group of guys that really push those individual qualities and the uniqueness of individuals. And I think you look at any team, any great team, any team that has won the Cup -- you look at St. Louis last year -- I'm sure that they weren't 20 of the exact same people. They had different personalities, different players, different skillsets that came together as a team to make themselves great. And I think that's how you build great teams."

The Sharks clearly must improve on the ice to be considered a great team again, but due to the presence of players like Kane and others, it would appear they have one of the necessary ingredients -- in his estimation -- to do so.