Did breaking Howe’s record make Marleau a Hall of Famer? Not so fast

Patrick Marleau just passed “Mr. Hockey”, the iconic Gordie Howe, to become the NHL’s all-time career leader in games played. That, on top of all his other accomplishments, cemented the Sharks star’s spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible, right?

It’s complicated.

By nearly any measure, Marleau’s career is worthy of being memorialized along with Howe and the rest of the game’s all-time greats. But, as was the case with Sharks GM Doug Wilson, Marleau might have to wait a while before he’s elected.

“It’s not for me to say who’s a Hall of Famer and who isn’t,” said Darryl Sutter, Marleau’s coach with the Sharks from 1997 to 2002, adding with a laugh, “I’m a little biased because there are guys in there that I played against and I know Patty was a lot better player than them, so, based on that, he should be in there.”

Marleau, 41, would be eligible three years after his retirement. How soon he’d get in will depend on the 18 members of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee, a mixture of executives, media, and former players and coaches who consider potential inductees under a very rigid selection process.

Committee members are allowed to nominate no more than one individual in the Player Category, the Builder Category, and the Referee or Linesman Category. Those nominations must be filed with the Chair of the Board of Directors or Selection Committee by a certain date each year. From that pool, the committee can select a maximum of four male players, two female players, and either two builders or one builder and one referee or linesman. All nominated candidates needed to receive at least 14 votes (75%) to get in.

Marleau will give the committee plenty to think about, starting with setting a games played record that might never again be broken.

Marleau will dress for his 1,769th career NHL game Wednesday when the Sharks play the Vegas Golden Knights to complete a two-game series at T-Mobile Arena. Marleau broke Howe’s record of 1,767 games when he played Monday in San Jose’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Golden Knights.

Wednesday will also mark Marleau’s 900th consecutive game — a milestone that only three other players in the history of the NHL have achieved: Doug Jarvis (964), Garry Unger (914) and Keith Yandle (912).

Marleau enters Wednesday’s game with 566 career goals and 1,196 points, totals that rank him 23rd and 50th all-time, respectively. Although Marleau has never won a Stanley Cup, he is 15th all-time in playoff goals (72), tied for 48th all-time in points, and tied for 20th all-time in career playoff games (195).

Every retired player that scored more NHL regular-season goals than Marleau is in the Hall. All but four players who have more points than Marleau – Pierre Turgeon (1,327), Jeremy Roenick (1,216), Bernie Nicholls (1,209), and Vincent Damphousse (1,205) – have also been elected or inducted.

Add in the not insignificant fact that Marleau won two Olympic gold medals with Canada in 2010 and 2014, and his resume, it would seem, is sufficient.

“Five hundred goals, 1,000 points, the number of 20-goal seasons, and everything that goes into it, how can anybody say that he doesn’t warrant every consideration for the Hockey Hall of Fame,” said TSN NHL analyst Craig Button. “How can anybody make that argument?”

But as a first-ballot entry? That’s where it gets complicated.

Marleau, of course, has never won a Stanley Cup. The closest Marleau came to winning a major individual award was in 2006 and 2014, when he was a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the player exhibits “the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

In 21 seasons Marleau has played in just three All-Star games, and never has been considered one of the most dominant players in the league. He has finished in the Top 10 for the Hart Trophy as the league MVP once — when he was ninth after the 2009-10 season. That season he also finished in the Top 10  for the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward (he was 8th) and was sixth in Lady Byng voting. That year he was also voted the third-best left wing in the league, but was never a first or second-team NHL All-Star.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 5: San Jose Sharks’ Patrick Marleau (12) heads onto the ice for pre-game warmups before their game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

“So when you say that a player that didn’t achieve those things or didn’t get those awards now doesn’t merit the Hockey Hall of Fame?” Button said. “Well I can only tell you this — there’s a lot of players that are going have to be removed from the Hockey Hall of Fame because they don’t have those accomplishments.”

Marleau’s closest comparable, at least from a statistic standpoint, may be forward Dino Ciccarelli.

Ciccarelli played 1,232 games over 19 seasons and had 608 goals and 1,200 points. He, like Marleau, did not win a major individual award and did not capture the Stanley Cup.

Ciccarelli was elected in 2010, in his 11th year of eligibility.

“You look at the players that are in the hall of fame that have similar numbers or similar accomplishments, there are lots of players that don’t have Hart trophies or first or second-team all-star nominations,” Button said. “If it was just about that, the hall of fame would have a handful of players and they wouldn’t consider the accomplishments of many others.

“What Patrick had accomplished is deserving of every single consideration. Every single one.”

It’s worth reiterating how difficult the Hockey Hall selection process is  — you need to receive at least 14 of the 18 potential votes (75%) to get in. And that’s after the committee selects a maximum of four male players, two female players, and either two builders or one builder and one referee or linesman.

But patience can pay off: candidates for the Hall remain eligible for election indefinitely. Just look at Wilson.

The Sharks general manager retired as a player in 1993 and had been eligible for 24 years before he finally received his Hall call last year. Wilson, during the time frame of his NHL career, which began in 1977, was the fourth-highest scoring defensemen in the league with 827 points in 1,024 games. He also won a Norris Trophy as the league’s top defensemen in 1982.

Wilson is part of a Hall class that not only includes Marian Hossa and Jarome Iginla, who were in their first year of eligibility, but also Kevin Lowe, who was in his 20th year of eligibility.

“People have to understand that, it’s not only that you have to get 14 of 18 votes,” said Lanny McDonald, the Hall of Fame chairman, last year. “But it’s also sometimes, who you might be up against when you’re nominated for that year. I’m not saying whether (Wilson and Lowe) were ever nominated before or not. It’s just sometimes, it’s timing.”

When will it be Marleau’s time?

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

“I’ve always said this — once you’re in the Hall of Fame, that means you were always a Hall of Famer,” Button said. “You might have to wait a few years, you might have had to wait longer than you thought was fair or longer than you would have liked. But once you’re in the Hall of Fame, you’re forever a Hall of Famer.”

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