The numbers are nice and round. 500 National Hockey League wins. 700 NHL games played. 500 NHL goals. 700 NHL points.
Not everyone gets an opportunity to achieve these milestones. To get a chance at these, you have to be good at what you do. Not just for a season or two or even five. But for a long time.
In 2007-08, eight members of the San Jose Sharks reached some important milestones or set a significant record.
Of course, hockey is a team sport – arguably the best team sport around. However, a team needs its core players to contribute nightly, or there won’t be any wins. And these people have continuously made a positive difference for their teams – especially the San Jose Sharks -- throughout their careers.
That’s why they’ve reached certain plateaus.THE 500/200 CLUB
The 500 NHL coaching wins club is quite the fraternity. Scotty Bowman has 1,244 and Al Arbour has 781, to name a few.
Now, Ron Wilson has become member No. 11.
He accomplished this feat on Feb. 9 in a 4-3 win over Nashville. But that’s not all. Slightly over a month later on March 18, he won his 200th game as Sharks head coach in a 2-1 victory at Los Angeles. Wilson surpassed Darryl Sutter as San Jose’s all-time winningest coach with win No. 193 on March 1 at St. Louis.
Wilson’s head coaching career started in Anaheim when he became the expansion team’s first coach in 1993-94. He won 30-plus games in three full seasons (16 in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season) and went to the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals in his fourth and final year.
The next year, Wilson led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. He won 40-plus games three times with the Caps before coming to San Jose during the 2002-03 season.
Since Wilson has been behind the Sharks bench, his teams have won 40 or more games in each of his four full seasons – including a club record 51 in 2006-07.
Along the way, Wilson has coached two American World Championship teams, an Olympics squad and led the United States to the first World Cup of Hockey championship in 1996.THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Defensemen Kyle McLaren and Craig Rivet and right wing Mike Grier must be doing something right. The trio reached a high games played mark during the season.
McLaren (Feb. 17 at the Rangers) and Rivet (Dec. 16 at Anaheim) each appeared in their 700th NHL games. Grier played in No. 800 on Dec. 8 against Buffalo, his former team.
Each player took a unique path towards NHL longevity. McLaren was Boston’s first round pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. He came to the Sharks in a trade during the 2002-03 season.
McLaren is quite the gamer. He missed 14 games during the regular season because of knee problems and even had arthroscopic surgery on the knee in mid-season. Knee problems also caused him to miss eight games last year.
These days, McLaren wears a brace. That, combined with the surgery, has allowed him to average close to 19 minutes per game.
Rivet’s experience was something San Jose coveted when they got him in a trade deadline deal with Montreal last year. He was Montreal’s third round pick in 1992. In 17 regular season games for the Sharks after the trade, Rivet had seven assists. In 11 postseason games, he had two goals and three assists. And to think he posted those numbers while still recovering from pneumonia that he had while with Montreal.
Steady would be the word to best describe Rivet’s style. He gets pucks to the forwards and out of the zone. He effectively starts the breakout. Rivet’s consistent performance has enabled him to set a career season high in assists and tie one in points.
Grier will probably never lead the NHL in scoring. But his traits are perfect for a team sport like hockey: good character, works hard and sells out every shift. That’s why he’s played in more than 800 games.
Grier’s work ethic is clearly seen when San Jose kills penalties. Over the last two seasons, he’s got six shorthanded goals -- three in each of the last two seasons (through March 29 and tied a career high also set in 1999-00 and 2000-01).
Grier was drafted by St. Louis as their seventh choice in 1993. His rights were traded to Edmonton in 1995 and he made his NHL debut with the Oilers in 1996. Grier was traded to Washington in 2002 and then went to Buffalo late in the 2003-04 season. The Sharks signed him as a free agent before the 2006-07 season.THE CAPTAIN
The individual numbers from 2007-08 won’t make center Patrick Marleau
happy. Through games of March 29, he had 43 points on 17 goals and 26 assists. The last time he scored 40 points was in 2001-02 (44). Marleau’s string of 20-plus goal seasons also had a chance of ending.
Yes, Marleau reached the 500-point mark with three assists on Nov. 15 at Phoenix. He’s also the team’s all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, points and power play goals.
But what will make Marleau happy is what he and the team has done since Feb. 27. Through March 29, the Sharks are 14-0-2 – the best record in the NHL. In those 16 games, Marleau has seven goals and seven assists for 14 points.ONE MORE CHANCE
America is known as the land of opportunity. And that’s what 38-year-old center Jeremy Roenick got when he signed as a free agent before the start of the season.
In mid-summer, Roenick was content with retiring. But by the time the leaves had fallen and the weather was getting colder, Roenick scored his 500th goal – the third-most by an American-born player -- against one of his former teams, the Phoenix Coyotes, on Nov. 10.
The goal wasn’t pretty – all Roenick was trying to do was bank the puck off the glass and get it into Phoenix’s zone. But the puck went towards goaltender Alexander Auld, who misplayed it and watched helplessly as the rubber trickled past the goal line.
That goal was one in a series of memorable events which began for Roenick in August. That’s when Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson called to ask if he was still serious about retirement. The call brought back Roenick’s passion, desire to play and quest to make his 19-year NHL career complete by winning his first Stanley Cup. So, he wound up signing a contract before training camp.
As the players would say, Roenick has been “money” in the clutch. Through March 29, he led the Sharks and was tied for the League lead with 10 game-winning goals. In fact, that 10th game-winner was his 1,200th NHL point, which came when the Sharks clinched their third Pacific Division title in a 3-1 win at Anaheim on March 28.
Roenick also played in his 1,300th NHL game on Feb. 9 vs. Nashville.
A PLATEAU HAT TRICK
Center Joe Thornton
is all about two things: winning and being the best team player he can be.
That attitude allowed him to reach three marks this season: 700 NHL games (Dec. 8 vs. Buffalo), 700 NHL points (an assist on Dec. 20 vs. Phoenix) and 500 NHL assists (Feb. 17 at Rangers).
But while everyone knows Thornton is one of the NHL’s best passers, he’s also shown he can score goals. Through games of March 29, he was leading the Sharks with 26 goals and 11 power play tallies. Thornton’s scored 20-plus for eight straight seasons.
Thornton also scored first hat trick, third in his 10-year career, by netting three in the third period at Phoenix on March 25.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Every member of the 2007-08 San Jose Sharks has been valuable to the team in his own way. Their efforts were recognized when, for the first time, the entire Sharks team was named the Seagate Technology “Sharks Player of the Month” for March.
But when one takes a look at the entire season, there’s really only one person who deserved to be named Seagate Technology “Sharks Player of the Year:” goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.
Nabokov led the NHL with a personal season high 44 wins (through March 29) and paced San Jose with a career-best 73 appearances. Among the League leaders, he was tied for third in shutouts (six) and ranked third in goals-against average (2.16).
One of Nabokov’s wins was No. 200. The victory came on March 7 at Chicago. Not only did the win come on the road, his milestone was set before 21,908 at United Center – the biggest crowd of the season – most who were there to honor Blackhawks Legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
Nabokov also started the first 43 games of the season – the second-longest streak in the NHL since New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur started 44 straight in 1995-96.
All of the plateaus and milestones are nice. They’re something a player can look back upon long after he’s skated his last NHL game.
But right now, there’s only one thing that will make everyone happy: a Stanley Cup.
As Roenick said when he signed with the Sharks, “My motivation is to win a Cup. The only reason I would be playing this year is because of Doug Wilson and the opportunity he’s given me to play with, I think, the best team in the National Hockey League, and have a chance to win a Stanley Cup.”