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Marleau shuns controversy, concentrates on winning

by Roger Phillips /
Given a different personality, Patrick Marleau could have chosen to be a big headache for the San Jose Sharks as they prepare to try to rebound from last season's playoff flop.

He could have moped. He could have groused.

After all, he spent the summer hearing his name in trade rumors, a situation made no easier by the knowledge that the no-trade clause in his contract gave him the ultimate say.

And it was a fact, not a rumor, that Marleau found himself stripped of his captaincy with the Sharks, not exactly the sort of move that will boost one's morale.

But Marleau, true to character, responded exactly as General Manager Doug Wilson expected he would.

"Patty has clarified that he wants to have his best year ever and wants to be part of it," Wilson said. "That tells you something. He's trained hard. He's always been a fitness guy. He's been here training his tail off. I see him even having a little bit more fun around here. He wants to be part of this leadership group here and make a difference."

Marleau even could earn the captaincy back, a decision that will be made jointly by players, coaches and management.

Perhaps Marleau's maturity should have been expected. He's always been a low-key, team-first performer, and earlier this month he reached the wizened age of 30. In 871 NHL games -- all with the Sharks -- the soft-spoken Marleau has 276 goals and 610 points since the team chose him with the second pick of the 1997 Entry Draft, right after current teammate Joe Thornton was picked by Boston. Marleau has been a strong playoff performer, with 37 goals in 92 postseason games.

He's also had his not-so-sterling moments, however, most glaringly a defensive lapse in the playoffs a few years back that turned a series against the Sharks and for which he was loudly called out by then-coach Ron Wilson.

Then there was last season, when the Sharks were rolling to the Presidents' Trophy. All was well and Marleau was a big part of the reason, scoring a career-high 38 goals. But when the Sharks compounded their history of playoff failures with another bust, Marleau's quiet postseason -- 2 goals in six games -- made him an obvious target. And a target is exactly what he was during the Sharks' long, painful offseason.

But with the arrival of training camp and the chance to wash away last year's letdown, Marleau is taking things in stride.

Of the loss of the "C" on his sweater, he said, "It's an honor to be captain of a team. It's not going to change what I do or who I am. If it is the right move to change it ... then great. Definitely I've learned from last year and I've learned from all my previous years as well and I'm going to bring that to the ice each and every game."

Of being the subject of trade talk, Marleau said, "I'm getting used to it now. It wasn’t that big of a deal. I had my focus on getting ready for the season. I couldn't really control anything other than that."

Coaches and management have not ruled out the possibility that Marleau could regain the captaincy, but others also are under consideration. The Sharks could turn to a veteran such as Rob Blake or Dan Boyle. They also could choose a young heart-and-soul player like Joe Pavelski.

Coach Todd McLellan suggested that the actual designation of a captain isn't nearly as important as making sure the dressing room is filled with leaders.

"I believe (the captaincy) can be over-magnified, and not necessarily outside the locker room but within," McLellan said. "Often the other 17 players can avoid some things because it's the captain's job. That's not how it works. Everybody has to have a responsibility regardless of whether they wear a 'C' or an 'A' to lead."

The GM agreed.

"The leadership of this team is going to go beyond three or four players that wear letters," Wilson said.

Marleau said everything he and the team have gone through in recent months ultimately will make the Sharks stronger. How much stronger won't be known until April and the Sharks see if they can atone for past playoff failures.

"We have to win," Marleau said. "Winning in the regular season and winning in the playoffs are two different things. It's something we're going to learn from, turn the page and forget about it and move forward and get back to the way we can play and continue throughout every game we play this year."

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