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Despite loss of 'C', Sharks' Marleau still leads way

by Dan Rosen

"I'm still going to lead whether I have something on my sweater or not. That part doesn't change. You can't regress and go the opposite way. I still look at myself as a leader of this team."
-- Patrick Marleau

Losing the San Jose Sharks' captaincy this summer stung Patrick Marleau's pride and touched a bit on his ego, too. Privately it might have been a decision San Jose's management made to motivate, but publically it sure looked like Marleau was shouldering the blame for another playoff flop in the Silicon Valley.

"The myth out there is, 'Hey, the Sharks lost in the first round and they are pinning it on their captain for lack of leadership,' " Sharks coach Todd McLellan recently explained to "That is not what it was about. It was about we need collective leadership and we need it to be stronger."

Whatever it was about doesn't matter now, and whether the Sharks are, as McLellan believes, better served with Marleau free of the "C" is certainly up for debate. Either way, Marleau is going about his business and scoring goals at a career-best pace because, well, he never stopped leading, "C" or no "C."

"It's nice to be recognized as one of the leaders around the League -- there are only 30 captains -- but I'm still going to lead whether I have something on my sweater or not," Marleau told "That part doesn't change. You can't regress and go the opposite way. I still look at myself as a leader of this team."

Marleau, who was replaced as captain by veteran defenseman Rob Blake, is showing it through actions instead of words. He has 10 goals and 7 assists through 13 games, meaning he's on a 63-goal pace. He scored a career-high 38 last season.

Even more impressive, Marleau's doing it without Joe Thornton passing him the puck. That coveted role now belongs to Dany Heatley, so Marleau was moved to the No. 2 line and due to Joe Pavelski's injury has been playing center instead of on the wing.

He has 7 assists, including six in the last five games, to go along with his 10 goals heading into Friday night's game against Colorado

"I like him better on the wing," McLellan said. "It's his speed and his size along the boards, plus his ability to shoot off the wing and get to the net again. But what is great about him is he can play anywhere. We can put him on the blue line and he'd be fine.

"He's just very determined to prove to himself, his teammates, the coaching staff and the people in San Jose that he is what he is," the coach added, "and that's one heck of a player, one of the top players in the League."

That's why neither Marleau nor McLellan are the least bit surprised by the former captain's hot start. His professionalism has always been strong enough to withstand any pride-busting decision made against him.

If anything, the way Marleau handled the controversy may have had a greater impact on his teammates than anything he could have done or said as the captain.

"I have had lots of talks, even with my teammates like 'Blakey' (Rob Blake), Danny Boyle and Joe (Thornton), and it's kind of a thing we have all gone through together," Marleau said. "It's not only me. It's a situation we're in and we're trying to make the best of it."

Marleau said the situation was made easier when Blake was named as his successor.

"You talk about me having respect, well he's got the respect of everybody who has ever played with him or played against him," Marleau said. "He's just a great guy and a great leader, so it's definitely a lot easier looking over and seeing the 'C' on his sweater."

His professionalism -- and hot start -- has been talked about amongst the decision makers for Hockey Canada as well. Marleau is one of four Sharks, including Thornton, Heatley and Boyle, who are under consideration for a spot on Canada's Olympic roster.

Kevin Lowe, one of the assistant GMs for the men's national team, was recently in Washington on a scouting trip and, when asked about Marleau's ability to handle the letter controversy, he gushed.

"From Team Canada's perspective, if I put that hat on, everybody knows what type of guy Patty Marleau is," Lowe said. "He's a real class person. He's a dedicated player and when you envision selecting a team you envision a guy like him fitting into a certain spot."

Marleau, like every other eligible Canadian, would give a heck of a lot more than a letter on his sweater to play in the upcoming Olympics. He was one of 46 at the orientation camp in Calgary over the summer, where he first talked publically about losing the captaincy, and admits the opportunity to play for Canada in Vancouver does serve as motivation.

"We know they are watching us, so that has got to be part of the motivation for us to play well," Marleau said. "Right now obviously our focus is on our season and playing well, but we have that in the back of our mind and know if we do well, do what we're supposed to do, we might have the opportunity to be there."

"C" or no "C," it doesn't seem to matter to Marleau anymore.

You have to wonder if it ever did.

"It's a piece of felt that is on your shoulder," McLellan stressed. "Is it important? Absolutely it's important or else we wouldn't make such a big deal out of it. But, his affect on himself and his teammates now might even be stronger without it."

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