Patrick Marleau is returning to San Jose.
General manager Doug Wilson announced Tuesday that the Sharks’ all-time leader in games, goals and points is returning to his original team with a one-year, $700,000 contract after spending the past two seasons in Toronto.
Wilson said the Sharks remain committed to integrating their young players into the organization. But suspensions, injuries and San Jose’s slow start changed the plan.
“This is an opportunity to add a veteran into our group to give use some veteran depth that’s versatile, understands how we play, and is very accepting of the role that (coach) Pete DeBoer may need on different nights,” Wilson said before the Sharks fell to 0-4 this season with a 5-2 loss at Nashville.
The Sharks failed to record a point in the first three games for the first time since 1993-94 and only scored three goals in the process. That led to the move to add a veteran forward with a history of production in the NHL.
The 39-year-old Marleau left San Jose two summers ago to sign a three-year, $18.75 million contract in Toronto after the Sharks were unwilling to offer a deal longer than two years. Marleau had 43 goals and 41 assists in two seasons with the Maple Leafs before being traded to Carolina in June in a salary cap move.
The Hurricanes then bought Marleau out, making him a free agent. He worked out with his former Sharks teammates in San Jose over the summer but the team opted to go young instead of bringing Marleau back.
That all changed following the rough start for San Jose, and now Marleau is back in teal.
“He’s still fast. He can still skate. He was always in incredible shape because he’s working so hard,” Sharks forward Tomas Hertl said last month. “His body, he’s still like a young guy because he’s working. … He’s physical and he can score goals, too.”
Wilson said he’s seen Marleau skate, and he knows Marleau trained all summer. Wilson credited both Marleau and his agent for understanding that the Sharks had to give opportunities to young players.
“A lot of the young guys have stepped up,” Wilson said. “But I’m not sure our plan was ever to have five or six rookies in the lineup on a given night. And this is a tough league and sometimes being slotted in the right role is just as important as playing in games.”
Marleau originally joined the Sharks as the No. 2 overall pick in 1997 and holds franchise records in goals (508), points (1,082) and games played (1,493). He helped the team reach the conference final four times in his career and the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, but never won it all.
He came under criticism at times for playoff disappointments but remained a fan favourite and was warmly welcomed back the past two years as a visitor with Toronto. His family also moved back to the Bay Area, leading to Marleau’s interest in returning.
Marleau has always been known as one of the fastest skaters in the NHL but appeared to have lost a step last year when his 16 goals were the fewest he had scored since having 13 as a rookie in 1997-98.
“He’s still got a lot of game in him,” former Toronto teammate Auston Matthews said last month. “He’s in unbelievable shape. Every single year, both years he was in Toronto, he comes in flying. It’s like he’s not even breathing.”
A fixture in San Jose’s top six forwards and on the No. 1 power play unit during his first stint there, Marleau figures to be more of a role player.
He will reunite with longtime running mate Joe Thornton, who also turned 40 recently. The two were the faces of the franchise during more than a decade together after Thornton arrived during the 2005-06 season and made the Sharks a perennial contender.
Marleau has 551 goals and 615 assists in 1,657 career games, including 788 in a row since he last missed a contest on April 7, 2009. Marleau ranks fifth all-time in games played, trailing record-holder Gordie Howe by 110 for the most in NHL history. Marleau could eclipse that mark if he plays past this upcoming season.