More power to Patrick Marleau.
There’s been a lot of discourse this week about Marleau’s path to Gordie Howe’s All-Time Games Played record. It’s been noted that Howe, at 51 no less, was still averaging half a point a game in his final season with the Hartford Whalers. Meanwhile, the 41-year-old Marleau has struggled this season with the San Jose Sharks, notching just four goals and four assists in 44 games.
Essentially, Howe established his record as a still-competent player, while Marleau is going to take the hallowed mark as a less-than-competent player.
For what it’s worth, Hockey Reference’s measurement for Adjusted Points is kinder to Marleau, taking account that Howe’s last season was played in a more offensive league: Marleau has 16 Adjusted Points for a 0.36 Adjusted Points Per Game, while Howe has 34 Adjusted Points for a 0.43 Adjusted Points Per Game.
But that’s neither here nor there: Nobody is arguing that Patrick Marleau was a better player than Gordie Howe. When Howe was 41, he was still averaging about a point per game for the Red Wings, was a First Team All-Star, and finished sixth in the voting for the Hart Trophy.
No, this is my point: Who cares how good you or I think Marleau still is?
I’ve said, on the record, that while I believe Marleau is still a competent NHL player, he’s also a scratchable one, which I wouldn’t have said last year when he attracted a third-round draft pick at the Trade Deadline. In my opinion, it’s no great crime if he’s in the line-up, no great crime if he isn’t.
I know there are analytics that suggest Marleau is one of the worst players in the league this season.
And of course, we all still remember when Marleau was one of the best players in the league. For some observers, it’s sad to see a former great struggle as Marleau has at times this season.
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) April 18, 2021
Here’s the truth though: Patrick Marleau owes nothing to our memory of him.
It’s no different than Michael Jordan on the Wizards. Jaromir Jagr on the Flames. Willie Mays on the Mets. Jerry Rice on the Seahawks.
We want it to be one way: An athlete frozen in time, at the peak of his or her athletic greatness. The farther they stray from that peak, the more “tragic” it becomes, perhaps some reminder of our own mortality. We want it to be one way, but it’s the other way: Time marches on and even our most inviolate memories are fluid. Nothing is really static – and that’s okay.
In his own way, Patrick Marleau is probably adjusting to the fluidity of his hockey mortality better than we are: The fourth-liner is simply doing what he loves, living with the fact that he’s not a first-liner anymore. And so what if the San Jose Sharks legend is not so legendary anymore? Even if he isn’t as special on the ice as he once was, even if he’s “just another guy” in the NHL, that still makes him a top-500 or so player worldwide. That’s a good hockey player.
And after this season, after he breaks Howe’s record, if the 41-year-old can earn another NHL contract, be it with the San Jose Sharks or another team – that’s a great achievement. If he’s good enough to get to 1,800 games playing 10 minutes or so a night for the Sharks or another NHL team – that’s a great achievement.
This is the best hockey league in the world: They’re not just signing passengers.
Simply, Marleau should do what makes him happy. It doesn’t matter what it looks like to us. Or what it doesn’t look like.
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