The noting of Patrick Marleau’s 400th National Hockey League goal came, and went, without much fanfare, which is so spectacularly apropos that it may as well be the encapsulation of his entire career.
The MMS (Most Maddening Shark) scored Sunday night in Colorado on a shot that was originally credited to Dan Boyle, who wasn’t on the ice, then momentarily to Joe Pavelski, who nearly deflected it in front of Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Eventually, though, it landed at Marleau’s skates, and we’re not even sure if he got the puck that actually was the 400th, so much time had passed between deed and recognition.
Now 400 goals is a lot, but in NHL terms, not as much as you might think. He is the 88th player to manage it, and a good 25 of those are neither in nor likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame barring a wholesale rule change.
[RELATED: Patrick Marleau career stats | 2013 game logs]
In other words, he can’t retire tomorrow.
But let’s say he has three more productive years after this in him, productive being his average goal production of 30 per year (not including the current one). That would put him close to 500, and only Brendan Shanahan, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Pat Verbeek, Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick and Peter Bondra are both 500-plus scorers and done as players.
Of that group, all but Verbeek, Tkachuk and Turgeon are likely to get in (and wouldn’t it be sweet if Marleau and Roenick went in the same year, given their warm personal relations?).
It would also give him 18 years and, roundly speaking, 1,400 games in the league. If your taste in Hall of Fame credentials leans toward aggregation, he is an excellent candidate – in 2016. Plus five years for cooling off, plus the usual voter anxieties.
But if you’re hanging your hat on a big postseason, or a singular moment or moments, Marleau is not that guy. His reputation (and let’s be honest, reputations count even in the Hockey Hall of Fame) is that of the guy who, when the going gets tough, is gone.
He was, is, and will probably always be, the MMS. Indeed, it is part of his buzzard’s luck that this shortened season, in which the Sharks treat their opportunities like anthrax pastries, is the one in which he might be playing his best hockey. He skates harder and with more purpose, seems more aware of the game around him and in general seems more like the guy whose line you stick a struggling player, rather than the reverse.
So, for the 15th time in 15 years, what is to be made of Patrick Marleau? His adjusted point shares, courtesy HockeyReference.com, put him in a group with Hall of Famers Michel Goulet, Andy Bathgate, Bernie Geoffrion, Yvan Cournoyer, Denis Savard, Rod Gilbert, Bobby Clarke, Peter Stastny and Darryl Sittler. It is hard, though, to make an eye-test case for him to be among that group.
Indeed, it is hard to make a case for him ever being the best player on his own team, save 2001 and 2004. Between Owen Nolan, Teemu Selanne and Joe Thornton, Marleau has always seemed like the classic second banana, either unwilling to command the light or unable to do so.
His saving grace, though, remains his ability to tantalize, to convince people that “If only he could . . . “ It is the sentence that explains him in so many ways, and obscures what he actually has done. It may help him that he is rising to a crescendo this year, and that even with as many miles on the car as he has, he is still 33, with no discernible history of injury. He may actually get better, though the actuarial tables suggest otherwise, and even if he maintains his current workrate, the bottom line on his trading card is an impressive one.
But in the end, the question of Patrick Marleau will boil down to this: Can one write the history of the NHL without mentioning his name? So far, the answer is a squinty-eyed but not entirely assured “no.” And if that is the answer you come up with as well, he is not a Hall of Famer. He has time to change hearts and minds, but not a lot.
But wasn't that 400th goal a thing of beauty? Once, they figured whose it was, that is?