Very soon we will see something very rare, especially in an age where older NHL players spent their early years in the Dead Puck era- a player get 500 career goals, also with the same team. Patrick Marleau hit 1,000 points early last season, so this is the last big individual milestone of his career. It’s a testament to his durability and speed, even as he enters his late thirties.
Whenever anyone hits these kinds of milestones, the question emerges: will they one day enter the Hockey Hall of Fame? It’s tough to tell, because the standards for admission change over time. But we can do a rough pro/con for Marleau:
- No end year hardware. No Hart, Art Ross, Selke. He came extremely close to being a 2nd team all-star in 2010, with 151 votes to Daniel Sedin’s 153. In fact, he got kinda screwed: while 151 votes were for him as a left wing (his actual position that season), three votes for right wing. But hey, that doesn’t count as official.
- Low points-per-game and goals-per-game: his 0.73 PPG and 0.34 GPG are pretty unimpressive. All time his PPG is 255th, though that includes some players with low career points, who also only played in their prime.
- No Stanley Cup. His playoff performance is actually pretty good (that’ll be in the Pro section), but no Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe. This may change, and making the Cup Finals last season does give his playoff career some shine, even though he wasn’t that great last playoffs.
- Never elite. Was never the best at his position.
- Thornton effect. Marleau had two above point-per-game seasons. In 2009-2010, when he scored 44 goals and 83 points, he was Thornton’s left wing. In 2005-2006, after Thornton was traded to the team in late November, Marleau played second-line center in easier minutes, ending up with 86 points.
- Hits important career milestones for his position. 500 goals and 1,000 points are mandatory unless you were an Eric Lindros or Pavel Bure type. He will end up a fair bit higher, as he has shown the ability to score 20-25 goals and has not lost much of his speed. If he ends up with 550, say, which is believable given his durability, that would put him around 30th career wise. 1,150 to 1,200 points would put him in the top 50.
- His adjusted stats are much better than his raw stats. Marleau played in the height of the trap, interference, no foot in the crease, and huge goalie equipment. By the end of the lockout he was already 26. This is regrettable because he has always been the speedy, skilled forward that was most hampered by Dead Puck Era rules and strategies. His career totals also have to deal with the fact that most other eras of hockey were higher scoring, especially the 1980s to mid-1990s. Marleau was drafted in 1997.
But if we use adjusted points, an advanced stat that controls for era, he gains points and many above him lose. He is 26th in adjusted goals with 575, and 41st in adjusted points with 1,197. Marleau could probably crack the top 20 in goals and top 30 in points, which puts him above many Hall of Famers, and in company with other players with high totals but low per-game stats. He will probably end up above several players that are not in the Hall but are thought of being eventual inductees, like Dave Andreychuk and Jeremy Roenick.
- High game-winning goals. Marleau has 97, 6th all time. Some may not find this stat important, but it looks good and gives Marleau a case for being a big game player, at least in the regular season.
- Good playoff numbers. His playoff GPG is pretty good, similar to elite contemporary players. His 65 career playoff goals is 20th all-time. His stats are very similar to Joe Nieuwendyk and Mark Recchi, the former in the Hall and the latter a sure-fire inductee at some point in the next five years. Both players have a bunch of hardware, but can we blame Marleau for not putting up 34 points on the stacked early 90s Penguins, as Recchi did? Frequently, before and after the lockout, Marleau was the best player on his team in the post-season.
- Two Olympic gold medals. Marleau was a very good member of both rosters, making the 2014 roster especially because he is such a complete player- can kill penalties, take face-offs, play wing or center. As is, they are a key part of Marleau’s case. If a Stanley Cup was added, the narrative about his career would flip almost instantly. The jury is still out.
- History of sportsmanship. Marleau is a two-time Lady Byng finalist, and almost constantly in the top five-top ten each year. His low PIM totals and humble personality are not insignificant, given the conservative mores of the voters. Jeremy Roenick, who does not have a Stanley Cup, and will end up with fewer goals, is a huge jerk. If he had Marleau’s personality, he might already be in.
Is Marleau in the Hall of Fame, or will he be Hall of Very Good material. I think his adjusted points, game-winning goals, and gold medals are all things that put him with or above current or future Hall of Famers. Eventually the Hall starts inducting the second tier of players in an era- excellent stats, consistency, milestones, but lack the awards or year-end all-star honors because the superstars always had it. They wait, but eventually in a slow year one gets the nod. I doubt Marleau will be inducted in his first five years of eligibility, but ten, fifteen years?