Patrick Marleau has quietly churned out production for the San Jose Sharks since they drafted him second overall in 1997. Went right to the NHL and scored 32 points as an 18-year-old. Scored 20 goals 12 times, 30 goals seven times, 40 goals once. The 74 games he played as a rookie were a career low for a full season.
So, about that durability – Marleau, 35, played his 1,300th NHL game Thursday night, becoming the youngest player in history to reach that milestone. He beat Scott Stevens by 104 days. Marleau remains a consistent top-six performer, even if his game is in decline, and he's seemingly indestructible, so we have to ask: can he pass Gordie Howe to become the sport's all-time leader in games played?
Mr. Hockey leads the way at 1,767 contests. If we assume Marleau endures some wear and tear going forward, he can still pass Howe by the time he's 41. Let's say he plays 25 of San Jose's final 29 games this season. He'd need 443 games after that to break the record. He could do it in six seasons if he averages 73.8 games over that span. Not bad at all. As his body ages, he could afford to miss eight games each season, and every year he plays more than 74, he'd bank more games for the home stretch.
The target age isn't impossible for Marleau. Jaromir Jagr is older, about to turn 43, and still going strong. Martin-St-Louis turns 40 this year. With enough desire and commitment to fitness, Marleau has a chance. The longtime Shark already keeps himself in excellent shape, and he has a lot to play for. There's the elusive Stanley Cup, of course, and the records.
My colleague Brian Costello assessed Marleau's trajectory 14 months ago to the day and revealed Marleau's rank on the all-time list of games among players who've spent their careers with one organization. Here's an updated version, keeping in mind Marty "St. Louis" Brodeur no longer qualifies:
1. Nicklas Lidstrom, 1,564
2. Alex Delvecchio, 1,549
3. Steve Yzerman, 1,514
4. Stan Mikita, 1,394
5. Joe Sakic, 1,378
6. Shane Doan, 1,365
7. Patrick Marleau, 1,300
8. Ken Daneyko, 1,283
9. Henri Richard, 1,256
10. Patrik Elias, 1,196
Marleau has two years remaining on his current deal, so he's a near lock to finish no worse than fourth on the all-time list, even if he departs for greener pastures in summer 2017.
The most important motivator for Marleau to pursue Howe's mark? Hall of Fame chances. To me, Marleau seems poised to become a polarizing, borderline Hall case in the vein of Bernie Federko (made it!) and Dave Andreychuk (not yet). Marleau has enjoyed an amazingly consistent career, but shouldn't the Hall of Fame reward a higher level of greatness? Consider the following Marleau accolades, or lack thereof:
(a) Has never won a major NHL award. Highest finish in Hart Trophy voting was ninth
(b) No first- or second- team all-star selections
(c) Has finished in the top 10 in goal scoring twice: fourth in 2009-10 and sixth in 2010-11
(d) Has never been a top-10 point scorer in any NHL season
Marleau should reach the 500-goal and 1,000-point benchmarks rather easily, but is he not the poster child for those numbers not meaning enough? He's never been one of the 10 best players in the game, as excellent as his career has been.
That said – his resume looks a lot different if he breaks Mr. Hockey's record. Suddenly Marleau would have the scoring milestones (with six more years of volume tacked on) and would lead the league in one important category. "No one played more games at the highest level, ever, and he was a heckuva player for a long time" suddenly sounds like a compelling Hall of Fame argument.
And while we're celebrating what Marleau has accomplished to date, let's not forget his teammate, Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe went first overall in 1997, one pick before Marleau. Thornton is two months older and 56 games behind. It somehow doesn't "feel" like Thornton has as good of a shot as Marleau to catch Howe, maybe because of Thornton's size, but he's quietly missed just 10 games in the past 10 seasons. We can't sleep on Thornton.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin