"I'm not much for letting people into my weird little world."
"Earlier in my career, I heard people say that they wanted to see more out of me, like facial expressions."
Sharks expect Marleau to play starring role in Stanley Cup run
By Mark Emmons
Posted: 04/14/2009 09:26:26 PM PDT
Updated: 04/15/2009 06:29:07 AM PDT
Sharks forward Patrick Marleau has been asked the same question for months.
How did a player who struggled so badly last year stage a comeback season that once again put him among the NHL's elite?
And, for months, Marleau has shrugged his shoulders. He has politely, in his soft-spoken way, talked generically about having a clean slate. He has let others speculate about the correlation between his production and distance from former Sharks coach Ron Wilson, but he won't go there.
"I'm not much for letting people into my weird little world," Marleau said.
But this man of few words now will have to answer another question — this time with his play.
Is Marleau ready to lead the Sharks to a Stanley Cup?
He's the captain in a sport where that actually means something. The focus will be on him to rise to the occasion at a time of year when he has stumbled the past two seasons.
But ask him if he's feeling added pressure this spring and you get . . . not much.
"Everybody wants to play their best," he said. "But as far as leadership, if I'm not getting the job done, it will be frowned upon."
Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson is not anticipating frowns. In fact he bristles at suggestions that Marleau is "different" this year.
"Our players have tremendous respect for Patrick," he said. "We said it before and we're saying it now. We haven't changed our opinion of him. Other people have, apparently."
evidently is no more talkative behind closed doors in the locker room.
"We've got enough players in here who talk, so Patty doesn't need to be vocal," Jeremy Roenick said. "But when something needs to be said, Patty will say it. When he does, everybody listens."
One of those rare moments came Saturday, after the regular-season-ending loss against Los Angeles, when Marleau told teammates to put their sluggish stretch run behind them.
The fact that he isn't the second coming of fiery Mark Messier led to a spirited discussion the past couple of seasons about whether Marleau is the right guy to be wearing the "C" on his teal jersey. It didn't help that Marleau struggled with just 48 points and a brutal minus-19 rating last season.
But Marleau quieted all that with a team-high 38 goals, 33 assists and plus-16 rating this season.
"His talent level is so far above everybody else's that when he decides to turn on his top speed, nobody can stop him," Roenick said. "That's how good he is."
The obvious reasons for Marleau's restoration:
- The move to left wing on Joe Thornton's line.
- The guy who made that decision, new coach Todd McLellan.
Much has been made of the Saskatchewan connection between McLellan and Marleau. McLellan, who coached the Swift Current junior team, has memories of a teenaged Marleau bouncing on a trampoline in the yard of a neighborhood house.
Still, Marleau didn't know much about McLellan. But Christina Marleau remembers how excited her husband was when he returned from a get-acquainted dinner with his new coach last summer.
"I could just see how he was looking forward to what was coming this season," she said. "And he has been a lot more eager to get to the rink. He's just happy."
One decision made early on was that the "C" would remain with Marleau.
"If he had decided it was better for the team to not let me have it, then I would have been all for that," Marleau said. "I don't think you need a letter to lead. But obviously I wanted to keep it. I like having it."
McLellan picks up the story.
"I wanted to see from him positive body language," he said. "I wanted him to smile, enjoy the game again and put him in a situation where he could succeed. Yes, I gave him the responsibility. But he's the one who has led. It's been all Patty Marleau."
Every time the Marleau-McLellan relationship is praised, it reinforces the idea there was serious friction between the captain and Ron Wilson. This much is clear: The coach couldn't let go of Marleau's mistakes.
In the playoff meltdown two years ago against Detroit, Marleau was caught out of position on Robert Lang's Game 4 goal with 33.1 seconds remaining that led to the Red Wings' series-changing victory. Ron Wilson never called out Marleau, who went scoreless with a minus-5 rating in the six games, by name. But he also never stopped talking about the goal's impact.
Last spring in Game 1 of the second-round loss to Dallas, Marleau bunny-hopped a Mike Modano slap shot that beat goalie Evgeni Nabokov. The coach ripped Marleau's explanation that he wasn't close enough to block Modano's shot, saying: "But why did he jump in the air?"
Still when Ron Wilson was fired, Marleau called to leave a message, wishing him well.
"Patrick never has a mean thing to say about anybody," Christina Marleau said. "It's just not in him. But I think if he ever was going to say he didn't respect or like Ron, it would have been to me. I never heard a bad word. So I think anything with Ron was grossly exaggerated in the media."
Those two playoff gaffes perhaps also have been blown out of proportion — suggesting that Marleau doesn't play big at the most important time of the year.
But since 2004, Marleau's 24 playoff goals are second only to the 27 scored by Calgary's Jarome Iginla. And when it comes to sheer toughness, there's the image of a bloodied Marleau returning to the ice after a devastating hit by Calgary's Cory Sarich last spring.
"People write some really dumb things, and it's based on nothing," Doug Wilson said. "When I tell people that Patty and Iginla have led the league in playoff goals, they say, 'You're kidding.' So I don't waste a lot of time and energy with the comments that are out there."
Doug Wilson describes Marleau as a younger version of Detroit icon Steve Yzerman. Marleau actually has patterned himself after former Shark Vincent Damphousse, who seemed to be on an even keel every night.
"But I've always been a person who tries not to let people know what I'm thinking," Marleau said. "There's obviously pros and cons to that. Earlier in my career, I heard people say that they wanted to see more out of me, like facial expressions."
Now, at 29, Marleau is the face of the organization as the Sharks' all-time leader in points, goals, assists and games played. He is so entrenched as this team's leader that when Marleau missed time recently for the birth of the family's second child and a minor injury, McLellan didn't allow anyone else to wear the "C."
Patty, McLellan said simply, is our captain. And there's the sense that for the Sharks to attain the ultimate prize, Marleau must lead the way.
"He definitely talks about winning the Cup," Christina Marleau said. "He enjoys the game and being around the guys, but he absolutely has a goal."
"And he's going to get one."
Aww, Christina!!! ♥ Also, I don't know how McLellan can take Patty seriously after watching him bounce on a trampoline.