The departure of Patrick Marleau and the rumblings of disgruntlement from Joe Thornton seem to signal the end of an era for both the San Jose Sharks and hockey itself.
It’s spring 2007 and you’ve just managed to curate the perfect playlist for the coming months. You open your LimeWire account and download (steal) as many songs as you can find — clean versions only, so mom doesn’t get mad — and get to work burning a few CDs.
Brandishing a sharpie, you title your mix “Hockey Jamz 007 (Clean)”, grab your mini boombox and run outside with your little brother. Waiting for you outside is a Mylec street hockey net and two KOHO sticks — the kind with the white plastic blade and “Jagr” inscribed down the side.
The San Jose Sharks are set to begin their first round series against the Nashville Predators later that night, so you and your brother have some voodoo to work out. Jim Jones’s “We Fly High” bumps out of the speakers and you’re off to the races.
Lining up as Joe Thornton on a draw against an imaginary Jason Arnott, you sweep the puck back to Patrick Marleau, who for some reason is holding his stick backwards but whatever, and boom. Marleau coasts a shot past the invisible goalie and the two of you celebrate in the driveway.
Despite the dated references and overall lack of athletic ability displayed in this scene, this is an image that can be found across the hockey world. Whether it’s 1999, 2007, 2013 or 2020, if you’ve followed the game of hockey for the past two decades, you’ve grown up with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton in your life.
Now, with Marleau moving on to greener — or grayer — pastures in Pittsburgh and Jumbo nearing the end of his rope in the Bay, it seems as though a duo that has dazzled hockey for years has now become just a memory.
Marleau moves on: Part Deux
This isn’t the first time Marleau has left San Jose. In the summer of 2017, the cap-strapped Sharks were unable to retain Marleau and he signed a hefty deal in Toronto on his quest for the Stanley Cup. It was a strange sight, but it lacked the air of permanence this newest departure to Pittsburgh has.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Marleau would return to the Sharks after he was bought out by the Hurricanes, who had acquired his contract in a salary dump by the Leafs. Sure enough, Marleau signed a cheap deal with San Jose just a few games into the 2019-20 season. Balance was restored in the universe — for the time being.
However, the sequel feels different. Pittsburgh presents a legit opportunity for Marleau to capture his first Stanley Cup. If he were to haul down the hardware that has eluded him for so long, wouldn’t it make sense for him to call curtains on his storied career? Even if he didn’t want to retire yet, it’s unlikely that returning to San Jose would be a smart move.
The Sharks have one of the league’s worst cap situations, not many legit prospects to build around and a lack of overall roster depth that will likely usher in a few years of a total rebuild following this season. Going back to San Jose would drastically diminish any chance Marleau had at winning the Stanley Cup.
Drafted in 1997 and making his debut in the 1997-98 season, Marleau showed immediate flashes that he was going to be something special. Breaking the 20-goal mark in just his second season, his combination of finesse and creativity gelled with the ease of the Bay area lifestyle.
Despite never bringing a Cup to the Bay, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Marleau helped the Sharks reach the playoffs in 17 of the 20 seasons he played for the club and amassed 68 goals and 120 points in over 170 postseason games. Owning four playoff overtime goals and three playoff hat tricks, Marleau was clutch.
For 19 seasons following his draft day, Marleau would break both the 500 goal and 1,000 point milestones. After returning to the Sharks earlier this season for year 20, Marleau would play his 1,500th game with the franchise, elevating his name into a class that includes just six other players, including Gordie Howe, Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman. He holds the top spot in virtually every statistical category in Sharks history, except for assists which is held by long-time teammate Thornton.
Beyond the ice, Marleau’s likeness took on a life of its own in the NHL video game series. An absolutely electric forward consistently sporting a 90-plus overall rating, Patty was almost like having a cheat code at your disposal. When paired alongside Jumbo, forget about it. It may seem silly, but for many young fans growing up in the early 2000s — especially those with little to no athletic ability like yours truly — these games provided an entry point into the sport and a different way to engage with marquee players.
Though it’s uncertain, and perhaps unlikely, that “Mr. Shark” will end his career in teal, he’s given both the city of San Jose and the hockey world at large two decades of memories.
Here’s looking at you, Joe
Given that Marleau had left the Sharks once before, it didn’t feel like that much of a stretch to see his name swirling around at the deadline. It was a jolt, however, to see Thornton’s name out there.
Although Jumbo hasn’t been with the Sharks as long as Marleau had been, in some ways his image had become tied to the team even more so. The long, scraggly beard with the gray streak down the middle, his hulking frame cruising around the ice, his unabashed love of a certain Tomas Hertl four-goal performance and of course the captain’s “C” marking his jersey for many years.
If Marleau was Mr. Shark, Jumbo was… Daddy Shark? Something like that.
However, he was perhaps just a phone call away from being moved to the Bruins or Stars this past deadline. There was some relief that Thornton didn’t get moved, as the Sharks losing both him and Marleau on the same day may have been too much to comprehend.
This was followed by a touch of melancholy after Thornton let it be known Tuesday that he was quite disappointed he didn’t get moved. During a pre-game media scrum, he used choice words when speaking about about the deadline and his quest for the Stanley Cup.
“I wanted a shot, you know? Believe it or not. I’ve been hunting this thing down for 22 years, so I wanted another shot at it.”
Thornton hasn’t been shy about being outspoken during his career, once telling general manger Doug Wilson to “shut up.” Yet, this discontent is palpable. This isn’t a squabble with management or teammates. This is him considering what’s best for him at this point in his career.
At 40 years of age and his production dwindling year by year, the window for Thornton to even be considered a positive addition to a club is small. Now that he has flirted with the idea of moving on, perhaps he takes the plunge this summer and explores finding a new home.
With the Sharks struggling to find a direction following a disastrous 2019-20 season, we may be seeing the end of the Marleau-Thornton era. Will the two find success as their travels move them beyond San Jose, or will Lord Stanley’s Cup continue to prove unobtainable for the duo as their legacy wisps away from the surface of the ice and into the sport’s lore?
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