By the time he arrived in Toronto as a member of the Maple Leafs in 2017, winger Patrick Marleau had a deserved reputation as one of hockey’s good guys.
And if you were around him every day, even as a media member, you’d see he was as kind and respectful to everyone as he was to his teammates. He never ducked out on any media availability. In his own, humble, quiet way, he was instantly a beloved leader for the Leafs, and Buds fans took to him and his lovely family right away.
I’ve repeated this many times, but when you cover hockey for a living – whether on a local or national stage – you stop rooting for teams, and you just learn to be happy for the people who have success on the ice. And you always wanted good things for Marleau.
Although a Stanley Cup championship eluded him in his 23-season career, Marleau never balked when the San Jose Sharks – the team most people will remember him as a key part of, and the one that drafted him second overall in 1997 – failed to win the Cup. He always returned the next season, ready to give it his all. No fuss, no muss. And though he moved around the league a little after his two seasons as a Leaf, he wound up setting a new league record for regular-season games played (1,779) before he announced his retirement Tuesday.
Is Marleau a Hockey Hall of Famer? There’s a great debate to be had over that question. There’s no doubt the 42-year-old had a remarkable run, posting 566 goals and 1,197 regular-season points, and in 195 career playoff games, he generated 72 goals and 127 points. There are people who are Hall-of-Famers who have far fewer points, and notably less experience than Marleau. That should work in his favor.
So should Marleau’s successes as a consistent NHL contributor. Beginning with his sophomore season of 1998-99, Marleau scored at least 21 goals 15 times. Seven times, he scored at least 30 goals. And remember, he was starting out in an NHL era when obstruction was not only allowed, but encouraged. It’s worth wondering how many more goals he would’ve scored in the current, more offense-minded era.
In addition to his individual achievements, Marleau was a difference-maker on the international stage. He won an International Ice Hockey Federation gold medal in 2003. And he was a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Canada at the 2010 and 2014 Games. In 13 career Olympic Games, Marleau amassed seven assists and nine points. It’s true he played on stacked Canadian rosters, but he still had to deliver in that pressure-packed environment.
Marleau also will be remembered for his close relationship with former Sharks teammate Joe Thornton. The two forwards will hold many San Jose team records for some time to come, and though they couldn’t put the Sharks over the top to win a Cup, they came closer, and more often, than many other NHers ever will. Their connection was magic for an extremely long time, and hockey in California blossomed in part because kids out there wanted to be the next Marleau or Thornton.
Having come to know him a little bit in his Toronto days, I suspect Marleau won’t be slighted if HHOF honors don’t come to him right away. His love for the game was good enough to sustain him for nearly a quarter-century, and that’s still probably enough for him now, at the end of his playing days. He doesn’t need a committee, or a gaggle of reporters, casting the final vote on his career. His teammates, and his NHL colleagues get to do that.
You can debate Marleau’s value as an on-ice competitor. You cannot debate his worth as a person. In that regard, he’s clearly an all-time great.