Fourteen years after being the second overall selection in the 1997 draft, Patrick Marleau is still a member of the Sharks. And he now has a pretty significant milestone to mark his longevity.
Marleau became just the 38th player in NHL history to play 1,000 games with one team on Monday night. At 31 years, 124 years, the winger also became the third-youngest player to reach the 1,000-game mark in his career behind Dale Hawerchuk and Vincent Damphousse.
Marleau would have been the youngest ever to play in 1,000 if the 2004-05 season hadn't been wiped out by a work stoppage. He does have the distinction of being the youngest player to play his first 1,000 games with one team.
"It makes it special to be able to stay in one city," Marleau told the San Jose Mercury News. "When you're growing up, you're seeing guys like [Mario] Lemieux and [Joe] Sakic that stay with one team the whole time. I've always kind of admired that."
Not surprisingly, Marleau is the Sharks' all-time leader in almost every category, including games played, goals (338), points (727), shots (2,356), power-play goals (105) and game-winning goals (61).
However, Marleau has not always been the most beloved of the Sharks' players. His critics say his lack of leadership ability, which included being stripped of his captaincy two years ago, is one of the main reasons why the Sharks have never been to the Stanley Cup Final. Marleau has also been the subject of countless trade rumors over the years but always manages to survive.
"He's been through a hell of a lot with one organization," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "You have to look at his complete body of work and the fact that he was here at such a young age and gone through coaches, [general] managers, highs and lows. You have to give him credit for that."
Marleau helped Canada win the Gold Medal at last year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He has also played in four World Championships and was a member of Canada's 2004 World Cup roster.
Despite the reputation of not coming through in the clutch, he has scored 12 game-winning playoff goals and his 34 postseason goals since the 2003-04 season are third among active players. Yet the one thing missing from Marleau's resume is a Stanley Cup ring.
"You learn that ups and downs are part of hockey," Marleau told. "There's going to be bumps in the road, and you have to hope that it's going to make us stronger."
Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk didn't win over the fans or even many people in his team's dressing room when he traded with the Thrashers for goaltender Kari Lehtonen last February. Lehtonen, the second overall pick in the 2002, was looked at around the league as injury-prone and an underachiever. Furthermore, the addition of Lehtonen made it clear that the Stars weren't going to retain popular goalie Marty Turco when he became a free agent at the end of last season.
However, the Lehtonen trade has won over his teammates and the fans as he is 20-10-5 with a 2.50 goals against average and a .918 save percentage this season. In his last six games, he has gone 5-0-1 with a 1.64 GAA and a .948 save percentage.
"Joe made a great trade and gave Kari a chance to come here and be a starting goalie," winger James Neal said. "As soon as he got here, he put in the work. The talent was there and he's done a great job for us. The way he battles to track pucks, pucks going cross-crease, and his ability to go side-to-side and makes saves, is unbelievable. We've seen it since the first game of the season in New Jersey."
Lehtonen dedicated himself to getting into better shape in the offseason. That has given him better agility, which coupled with his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, makes it tough for shooters to get pucks by him.
"He's a big body, takes away a lot of net," Stars winger Steve Ott says. "He's a lot more agile than people think, with a big body like that."
The Islanders have already dumped two players with big salaries who are eligible for free agency next summer by trading defenseman James Wisniewski and goaltender Dwayne Roloson. While winger and prospective free agent Matt Moulson is seemingly another logical player to be traded by the Feb. 28 deadline, he very much wants to stay with the Islanders.
"I personally love it here," Moulson told Newsday. "I love the guys, I like the way the organization treats us and I like the direction we're heading. We have a good group of guys, and that's the key. Everyone wants to win with each other, and I don't know if you find that too often in professional sports. Over the past two years, I've made some good friendships with guys, and I want to be part of this team moving forward to where we'll be a playoff-contending team every year."
Moulson has 14 goals and 26 points in 43 games this season. He scored a career-high 30 goals to lead the Islanders last season and then won a $2.45 million salary in arbitration last summer. GM Garth Snow and Moulson's agent have had preliminary talks about a contract extension.
"That's why we pay the agents the big bucks to deal with it," Moulson said. "He'll talk to Garth about what's best and I'm sure they'll figure that out. My loyalty to this team is pretty much because I like playing here. I was very fortunate to get a shot with the Islanders. Maybe why I like it here so much is because of how they treated me and the type of opportunity that I got, but I think I'm loyal for a lot more reasons than that."
The Devils have at least temporarily put a stop to their season-long collapse by registering points in a season-high four games in a row, though that still leaves them with a league-worst 29 points. The Devils have also scored 18 goals in those four games, a good sign for a team that has been offensively challenged all season.
"I don't look at that," coach Jacques Lemaire said of the goal scoring. "I look at how our team plays and the goals will come. You look at the guys and they are going at the net and scoring a few goals because they are going at the net. This is what I'm looking for. There's some nights they'll go in. Other nights they don't. What can you do?"
Eleven different Devils have scored those 18 goals, including three each by Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson.
"Guys are learning the way that Jacques wants us to play and you can tell the guys more organized," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "You can tell we still have a couple of shifts here and there where we look like we don't know what to do, but slowly it's coming along pretty well."