SAN JOSE -- While the hockey world awaited his free-agent decision, John Tavares reached out to someone who knew what he was going through.
Tavares said he followed up with Sharks legend Patrick Marleau. The superstar center first spoke with Marleau, now a Maple Leafs winger, about coming to Toronto.
He also faced the possibility, like Marleau did the previous summer, of leaving the only NHL team he’d ever played for. Tavares didn’t need more insight on the Leafs, but on what it was like to leave a place that shaped his career.
“Just kind of getting his perspective more on that really,” Tavares told NBC Sports California Thursday, “[than] on where I was gonna be going, just because if I was going to choose I tried to have a better understanding of what it was like for something else that went through it."
Tavares played 824 fewer games with the New York Islanders than Marleau did with the Sharks, and he’ll have to wait much longer to return to his old home, too.
While Tavares is three months away from returning to Long Island, Marleau will make his second trip to San Jose with the Leafs Thursday night. He first returned last October, receiving a video tribute and a lengthy ovation from the crowd at SAP Center on a night Marleau said he will never forget.
Even though the emotional return is out of the way, Marleau said it remains odd going to the visitors' locker room.
“It’s still a little bit weird,” Marleau said Thursday about coming back to San Jose. “A little funny, but definitely a little bit easier the second time.”
Marleau remains the Sharks’ all-time leader in games played (1493), goals (508), and points (1082). His ties to San Jose remain strong, too, as his family made the trip with him and will attend Thursday’s game.
He was the face of the Sharks for nearly two decades, and now he’s a leader on a young Leafs team. The 39-year-old scored 10 points in his first 18 games this season, and is still playing top-six minutes in his 21st season.
He’s also wearing an ‘A’ as one of three alternate captains, and has grown close with two of the Leafs’ young stars, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Marner posted a video on his Instagram story Wednesday of Marleau driving while Marner, Matthews, and two of Marleau’s sons danced and sang along to the Village People’s “YMCA.”
Just Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews singing YMCA with Patrick Marleau and his kids. That's all. pic.twitter.com/ikzywXQgvO— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) November 14, 2018
Marleau has 18 years on Marner and Matthews, but Marner said the veteran and his family have welcomed him and Matthews with open arms.
"It's pretty special. I don't think it comes around too often,” Marner said of his relationship with Marleau. “For me and Auston, we just try to take as much in as we can. [Marleau’s] had a lot of experience. His family is awesome. It's a lot of fun being around him.”
Tavares wasn’t done picking Marleau’s brain once he signed a seven-year, $77 million contract with Toronto on July 1. Now that they’re teammates, he said he continues to learn from Marleau on and off the ice, as do the rest of his teammates.
“Patty’s one hell of a person,” Tavares said. “I think, first and foremost, guys really look up to him … and then as a pro, nobody really does it better in terms of his preparation on a daily basis. His attention to detail on the ice, how hard he works, how hard he plays, and how much he enjoys playing.
“Even for a guy [who's] approaching 1600 games, it's amazing to still see the excitement and joy he has every day on the ice and the fun he has."