Patrick Marleau. (CPimages \'04/Ryan Remiorz)
After months of negotiations and public speculation on Marleau's future, he finalized a deal two weeks before training camp opens to stay with the club that drafted him in 1997. Marleau has played more games in teal than anyone, and he was relieved to head into camp with his future resolved.
"I put a lot of thought into it, but what it came down to is I've been here the longest," Marleau said in a phone interview after putting down his 10-month-old son Landon, for a nap.
"I'm the last guy standing. I've come up with the team, and now that we've got what I think is a Stanley Cup-calibre team, I thought it wouldn't be the best time to leave. It was important to me to stay with the team, to stay in the Bay Area."
Marleau's extension finishes a busy summer for general manager Doug Wilson, who also signed forwards Joe Thornton and Milan Michalek and defenceman Craig Rivet to multi-year contracts. Jonathan Cheechoo is among several other young players with long-term commitments to San Jose.
"A group of our guys understand we're coming in to the prime of where our team is at," Wilson said. "It's an exciting time for us, for this number of players to step up and want to be a part of it. I think they sense there's something good in place."
Marleau's new deal will pay him $6.3 million each season, a healthy raise for the Sharks' second-line centre. Thornton, the Sharks' top-line centre and the league's second-leading scorer, will average $7.2 million per year in his three-year extension, which also begins in 2008.
Marleau, a two-time all-star who has one year and $4.5 million left on his current contract, was San Jose's second-leading scorer last season with 32 goals and 46 assists. He became the Sharks' franchise leader in points (491), goals (219) and assists (272) last season, surpassing former captain Owen Nolan in all three categories.
Though some have questioned whether the mild-mannered farmer's son from Saskatchewan can be an effective NHL leader, Wilson isn't among Marleau's doubters.
"He's got that balance," Wilson said. "He understands that there's nobody bigger than the game, and nobody bigger than the team. The relationships that players have with fans are based on that premise. He gives back, and he's very involved in the community."
Marleau, who has been with the Sharks since he was an 18-year-old rookie in the 1997-98 season, also passed Mike Rathje for the franchise record in games played (717), cementing his status as a longtime fan favourite at the Shark Tank.
But Marleau struggled in the playoffs, going scoreless with a minus-5 rating in the Sharks' six-game second-round loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Coach Ron Wilson launched thinly-veiled criticisms at his captain, who absorbed and accepted much of the blame for the Sharks' latest early-round postseason exit after the NHL's fifth-best regular season.
Marleau then was surrounded by trade rumors when negotiations over his extension stretched through the summer, with the Montreal Canadiens reportedly the most eager to swing a deal. But Marleau always said he wanted to stay in San Jose, his wife's hometown and the Canadian's adopted home.
"You learn from listening and taking all these calls, but there really was only one priority, and that was to re-sign Patrick," said Wilson. "Did teams call as recently as the last couple of days? Yes, they did, but the response was always that we're trying to re-sign Patty."