Patrick Marleau's played more NHL games than anyone — is it enough for the Hall of Fame?
Seldom the best player on the ice, Marleau was very good for longer than anyone
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Patrick Marleau has been very good for longer than anyone
As of tonight, nobody will have played as many regular-season NHL games as Patrick Marleau.
Marleau will set the record with his 1,768th game, breaking Gordie Howe's long-standing mark he established at his 1,000th game in 1961 and padded through game No. 1,767 in 1980.
Here's everything else you need to know about Marleau's milestone:
Marleau made the youngest NHL debut since 1945 at 18 years, 16 days old. If you're going to play more than anyone ever, it's good to start early. That first game came in 1997, with the now-41-year-old Marleau's first point three games later (assisting a Viktor Kozlov goal) and his first goal in his seventh game (against Nikolai Khabibulin and the Phoenix Coyotes).
He's more than a full regular season away from breaking Howe's single-team games-played record. Howe played the first 1,687 games of his career with the Detroit Red Wings before returning to the NHL 10 years later for a season with the Hartford Whalers alongside his son Mark Howe. Marleau will hit 1,600 with the San Jose Sharks next week, having also played 164 with the Maple Leafs and eight with the Penguins after a mid-season, pre-hiatus trade last year. It is perhaps fitting that Marleau, of Aneroid, Sask., is the one to pass Floral, Sask., native Howe's record.
Mark Messier also has a claim to the record. The longtime Oiler and Ranger played more games than anybody else — if you include the playoffs. Messier came tantalizingly close to 2,000, falling just eight games short. Marleau is second by that metric, 30 back of Messier. Howe is fourth with a bullet, as he played an additional 419 games (plus 78 in the playoffs) in the World Hockey Association. Jaromir Jagr sits between Marleau and Howe.
Messier and Howe are Hall of Famers. Jagr is a lock. What about Marleau? Of those first three, Howe owns the lowest points total at 1,850. Marleau is at 1,196. He's never been in the conversation for a major award besides the Lady Byng, never cracked 90 points in a season and never won a Stanley Cup. He's made six all-star teams in 23 years.
Marleau did win a pair of Olympic gold medals with Canada in 2010 and 2014, tallying nine points over 13 combined games. That helps the resume, though Marleau played more of a depth role on those teams.
Other than longevity, there is nothing about Marleau's career that screams Hall of Fame. But "other than" is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence. He may never have been the best, but he was deemed good enough for long enough to play more regular-season games than anyone in the history of the NHL.
The top 16 players on the all-time games played list are all surefire Hall of Famers or already there. At 17th sits career Coyote Shane Doan, who may serve as our closest Marleau comparable. Doan played 1,540 games with one franchise, accruing 402 goals among 972 points. He played for Team Canada at the 2006 Olympics, failing to win a medal. Despite his status as greatest Coyote ever, most agree he's not deserving of the Hall.
Marleau hit important benchmarks like 500 goals, and should get to 1,200 points too. He played in a Stanley Cup Final; Doan skated in just 55 playoff games. Like Doan, he is synonymous with one franchise.
And as of tonight, he will have played more NHL regular-season games than anyone, ever. Including Gordie Howe and Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. Maybe this doesn't require too much thought.
The Sharks drop the puck on Marleau's milestone game tonight at 10 p.m. ET in Las Vegas. For more on Marleau's background, read this profile by CBC Sports contributor Vicki Hall and watch this 90-second video from CBC Sports' Rob Pizzo:
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