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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Marleau’s single-season goal record is all about keeping Gordie Howe in the background

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In his career, San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau has scored more goals (89) than any other player in NHL history, including legendary Red Wings’ captain Gordie Howe (85). But, as his bid to break Howe’s “single-season” record goes, Marleau is not necessarily chasing a single-season achievement. He is instead steadily methodically approaching Howe’s long-term records for games played (hundreds more than Howe himself and a few of his teammates combined) and goals per game.

The Red Wings won their Stanley Cup by spreading defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom around and have assumed that having him on the roster is an essential part of the winning formula. But one of the ironies of Marleau’s career is that he has been on the Sharks’ roster at exactly the same point that Lidstrom was for the Red Wings, which is why he is the next person to ask for the record. Lidstrom hasn’t given Marleau permission to break the record this season, even as other high-profile players with ties to the Red Wings have done it before him, including current NHL player Stephen Weiss (41 games played) and Scotty Bowman, the NHL’s all-time winningest coach (471 games played) who is now working as a broadcaster with Fox Sports.

The Red Wings are like brothers to Marleau, but he is not a native Detroiter. And he would have preferred not to end up on the same side as a man with his last name. He had too much respect for Howe, whom he idolized and who became a mentor after he was drafted by the Sharks back in 1998. He was bitter that Howe denied him a spot on the team but also appreciative of his own nearly 12 years in the San Jose. He was close to Lidstrom, and had never really believed that Lidstrom would leave at any point in his career.

He still hadn’t decided how to respond when I asked him last week for his thoughts on Lidstrom finally retiring. I suggested that it was good for hockey that Lidstrom’s career was over because his many talents must have strained the strengths of the Red Wings.

For what it’s worth, Marleau agreed that Lidstrom will go down as one of the greatest Red Wings, and said, “I don’t think he’ll be forgotten.” But he also said, “I think Gordie’s the definition of the Detroit Red Wings. He’s a cornerstone of what they do, the way they play.” The metaphor here is that Lidstrom represents the vernacular of the Red Wings and Howe represents the fundamental intelligence and simple facts about his game.

But Lidstrom had always said that he did not want to get into fighting. Howe liked to dabble in that. And he was a Boston Red Sox fan, which angered the Red Wings. When Marleau first arrived on the Sharks’ roster, he told teammates he thought Howe and Lidstrom were friends. “I said that guys over in Detroit aren’t going to respect you unless you play with respect and every guy kind of reacted and looked at me like, ‘Dude, are you crazy?’ ” he said.

When I put it to him that Marleau had taken Howe’s place in San Jose’s and hockey’s history, he said he did not think of it that way.

The fact is that both Howe and Marleau are evolving into the living cultural artifacts that they are. Howe’s legacy transcends the seasons in which he played. But Marleau is in no danger of becoming overshadowed by Howe or a player who never played for the Red Wings. In fact, he might even enhance his own legacy, which remains compelling and promising. He has eclipsed Lidstrom’s career for games played, and he still has a very long career ahead of him.

Updated Tuesday night: After a correction was made to the original article, Marleau’s totals for the whole decade is corrected.

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