Why Patrick Marleau’s legacy will always be remembered in Toronto

Hockey Central discussion on the San Jose Sharks major struggles out of the gate this season, and why Patrick Marleau injecting his leadership back into the room, might be just what they need to turn things around.

TORONTO — It always felt a little like the Toronto Maple Leafs borrowed Patrick Marleau from the San Jose Sharks.

His hockey playing legacy was already secured in Northern California when he chose to join the Maple Leafs at a critical stage of their development, bringing more than 1,500 games of NHL experience to Toronto for what became two years of doing it right every day.

Marleau made a huge impression on the teammates left behind here when he requested a trade over the summer because his wife and four kids were moving back to their home in San Jose. That was evident in the Leafs reaction to Tuesday night’s news that the Sharks had signed him for another season after previously passing on the chance to do so.

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“He deserved to play somewhere in this league,” said Mitch Marner.

“It was great to see that,” said Auston Matthews.

“That’s really cool,” said William Nylander.

Quantifying Marleau’s impact on the Leafs is a difficult thing to do. You can look at the numbers, obviously — he scored 43 goals and 84 points while dressing for all 164 games over two seasons — but that fails to capture the essence of what he’ll most be remembered for in Toronto.

The enduring relationships he created with Marner and Matthews, in particular, offer a window into his value as a mentor and guiding hand. They were still young men getting to know the NHL when Marleau arrived in 2017 and quickly fell into a routine that included regular dinners and movies together on the road.

Marleau and his family opened their doors to the now-franchise cornerstones at holidays and special occasions. They also spent personal time together over the summer.

“He means a lot to a lot of guys on this team and he’s a close friend of mine,” said Matthews. “Just the way he is as a player and as a person, I think it’s just something that we can all kind of take bits and pieces of and apply it to ourselves. Not just on the ice, but off the ice as well. Just how he treats people and just the way he is and just his presence.

“It’s always felt, right?”

For Mike Babcock, the arrival of Marleau on an $18.75-million, three-year contract helped kick off a culture shift in the dressing room.

Not only did it give him someone that could be held up as a constant example of how to conduct your business, it also signalled to other players around the league that things were changing in Toronto.

Lo and behold, John Tavares signed with the Leafs as a free agent the following summer after picking Marleau’s brain about his experiences with the organization.

“What we don’t know, and everyone can speculate on why guys come, but when you’ve got people that have come from other organizations like Patty did, that starts it,” said Babcock. “I thought he really helped out our young guys, he gave us a real good pro — an example of how to eat, how to work out, how to train, how to practice — so we could get on the process of changing the culture.”

As a teammate, you can’t help but be impressed while working alongside a guy with a consecutive games played streak of 788 (and counting). Incredibly, that was built entirely in Marleau’s 30’s and will now stretch into a 40-year-old season when he suits up for the Sharks again this week.

“No one deserves it more than him and I know he’ll make the most of it,” said Tavares, now the Leafs captain. “I think it’s just amazing the level that he still plays at, his ability to skate as well as he does. Knowing that he’s going to be pretty close to three decades [in the NHL], right?

“Just amazing how someone like that continues to evolve his game and adapt over time.”

Marleau is 110 games behind Gordie Howe for the all-time NHL record in games played and will have a chance to eclipse that mark if he plays into next season. Babcock believes he can do it.

The door is back open after a long summer for Marleau that saw his rights traded to Carolina on June 22 in order for him to be bought out. His top priority was charting a return to San Jose in free agency, but the Sharks were operating near the salary cap ceiling and initially passed on the chance to reunite.

Fortunately, the veteran remained patient and saw a spot open up for him on a league-minimum $700,000 contract when the Sharks stumbled out of the gates to start the regular season.

“That was what was best for his family,” said Babcock. “That’s what he wanted when the season ended and I’m glad it’s all worked out for him.”

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The Leafs won’t have to wait long to formally recognize Marleau because San Jose is due to visit Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 25.

However, beyond the tribute video and ovation he receives that night, there will be greater rewards down the road. His name will forever be spoken with reverence among players in not one, but two, NHL cities.

“He’s been in this league for [22 years] and every time someone walked in — no matter if it was their first game or not — he was always there to introduce himself and talk to them and try and help out if anything could be done,” said Marner.

“His legacy here, I think, is just how respected he was around our room and around the league and just how much he meant to our team.”

Gone, but certainly not forgotten.

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