Every member of team teal has earned the right to be in the Stanley Cup Final with their own special story, but two Sharks in particular have waited much longer than everyone else.
2,778 regular season games. Or, in terms of seasons, 33.87 NHL seasons.
No, that’s not how many games it took the San Jose Sharks franchise to reach their first Stanley Cup Final.
That’s the amount of combined regular season games it took for Sharks forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to make their first Stanley Cup Final appearance – more games than Nashville, Minnesota, Columbus and Winnipeg have played in their franchise’s history – and the most games between two teammates before reaching the final series in NHL history, according to Elias. The duo are both completing their 18th NHL season, and shared rookie seasons in the 1997-98 campaign.
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Thornton is T-13th in league history in assists with 964 helpers, and has 118 playoff points in 150 games. Marleau has played in an astounding 1,411 games, all in teal, before reaching a Final. Like Thornton, he has more than 1,000 career points.
Both players have gone through so many ups and downs throughout their careers, it’s hard to fit it all in one post. Thornton is widely considered as one of the best passers of this generation, and has been one of the league’s most special playmakers since the late ’90s in Boston. But he also had his captaincy stripped in the summer of 2014 after the team infamously blew a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles. After 18 years, the St. Thomas, Ontario native will finally get his chance.
Marleau is a rarity nowadays – one who has spent his entire, illustrious career with the same franchise. While he has never dominated at the level Thornton has, his incredible durability and consistency is unheard of in this era. He has played in every game since April 9, 2009 – 541 consecutive games – and missed a grand total of 31 contests in 18 seasons.
There are other Sharks, too, who have waited a long time for this moment. Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture are three Sharks who have spent their whole careers by the bay without reaching a Cup Final. Pavelski and Vlasic arrived in 2006, and Couture in 2009. It took Brent Burns 11 seasons to reach tonight’s game, 10 for Roman Polak and nine for Joel Ward.
Only two Sharks have appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals before tonight: Dainius Zubrus (1997, 2012) with Philadelphia and New Jersey and Martin Jones (2014) in Los Angeles.
For Thornton and Marleau, it’s not as if they bounced around the league searching for a ring or are just barely good enough to keep their spot on the roster. At their age, 36, that’s what might be expected, but not for these two iron-men. Thornton played his way on to Team Canada’s 2016 World Cup roster this year thanks to his 82 points and 18 playoff points. Marleau was a 25-goal-scorer in the regular season, adding on 23 assists, and he chipped in 12 points in the postseason.
There’s no question some of the younger Sharks will have a little added motivation to win one for the wiley veterans.
San Jose has had a similar core group of players for the better part of a decade, and that chemistry really showed this season, especially in the playoffs. Let’s hope that continues for one more series.