When teary-eyed San Jose Sharks’ forward Patrick Marleau took to the ice at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on April 19, 2021, his name was written into the NHL history book. The contest against the Vegas Golden Knights was his 1,768th appearance in the league which meant the 41-year-old had broken Gordie Howe’s long-standing mark of 59 years for the most regular-season games played.
Congratulations for the feat came rolling in for the native of Aneroid, Saskatchewan from past and present teammates such as Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski as well as the Howe family. Marleau had received a tribute in front of friends and family via the rink’s huge video screen two days earlier when he tied Howe’s record in a home game against the Minnesota Wild. His teammates wore number 12 Marleau jerseys during the pre-game warmups and his number was painted into the ice surface behind each net.
Originally drafted second overall by San Jose back in 1997, Marleau made his NHL debut on Oct. 1, 1997 when he was just 18 years and 16 days old. At the time, this made him the youngest player in the league since 1945 when Lee Wharton made his debut for the New York Rangers at the age of 17 years and 81 days.
Marleau remained with the club until joining the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent in 2017. He played in Canada for the next two seasons and was then traded to the Carolina Hurricanes where the team bought out the remaining year of his contract. He re-joined the Sharks early in 2019-2020 but was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline in February, 2020. However, Marleau returned to San Jose once again by signing as a free agent last October.
The majority of his games have been played with the Sharks as he suited up for 164 regular-season outings with Toronto and just eight with Pittsburgh. Marleau is playing in his 23rd NHL season at the moment but it’s possible it could also be his last. It’s doubtful the Sharks will make this season’s playoffs but he may stick around for another year or two to provide leadership for the team’s youngsters.
Howe, of Floral, Saskatchewan, entered the NHL in the 1946-47 season for the Detroit Red Wings and remained with the club until the end of the the 1970-71 campaign. He then joined the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1973-74 to play with his sons Mark and Marty. Howe played six full campaigns in the league before returning for one final lap in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80 at the age of 51.
This came about when several WHA clubs merged with the NHL, including Howe’s New England Whalers’ team. In total, Howe appeared in 1,767 regular-season NHL contests as well as 157 playoff games for 1,844 games in the league. He skated in 419 regular-season games in the WHA plus another 78 in the postseason for a total of 497 outings. When added up, Howe played in 2,341 combined NHL and WHA games.
Howe racked up 810 goals and 1,049 assists for 1,850 points in the NHL with 174 goals and 334 assists for 508 points in the WHA. He also scored 68 goals and 92 assists for 160 points in NHL playoff encounters along with 28 goals and 43 helpers for 71 points in the WHA postseason. This gave him 2,358 points in 2,186 combined regular season games as well as 231 points in 235 combined playoff contests. When added up, Howe tallied 898 goals and 1,184 assists for 2,589 points in his 2,341 games.
For interest sake, as of April, 28, 2021, Marleau had appeared in 1,771 regular-season games with 566 goals and 631 assists for 1,197 points. He also had 72 goals and 55 helpers for 127 points in 195 playoff outings for a total of 638 goals and 686 assists for 1,324 points in 1,966 games.
Marleau and Howe played in two completely different eras and it’s a lost cause to try and compare the two players. In fact there’s no need to. Both displayed professionalism, consistency, durability and skills on the ice and led by example. Howe currently ranks number four in the NHL’s all-time scoring parade with only Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Mark Messier being able to better his points totals. Marleau currently sits at number 50 and is still climbing.
In fact, Marleau is just one of three NHL players in the top-50 all-time regular-season scorers who is still playing in the league. Also climbing the ladder alongside him are ex-San Jose teammate Joe Thornton of the Toronto Maple Leafs who is ranked at number 14 and the 34th-ranked Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. It’s anybody’s guess how much longer these players will continue to grace the ice and where they’ll end up in the scoring parade.
As for regular-season games played, Thornton currently sits 99 contests behind Marleau with Zdeno Chara of the Washington Capitals 170 games back. But for at least another year or two and possibly much longer, Patrick Marleau’s name will sit at the top of the list for all-time NHL regular-season games played and that’s definitely an achievement worthy of recognition.