Patrick Marleau will become the NHL all-time games played leader on Monday, and though his friend Joe Thornton says he’s thrilled for the San Jose Sharks forward, he has no aspirations to challenge the mark himself.
“I am strictly one day at a time and I’ve been in that mode for five years,” the Toronto Maple Leafs forward told NHL.com this weekend, breaking into laughter. “It’s a good mindset to have.
“Having said that, it’s really hard to believe Patty is going to pass Gordie Howe. It’s really cool.”
Marleau has played 1,767 regular-season games and the 41-year-old is set to pass Howe when the Sharks visit the Vegas Golden Knights (10 p.m. ET; NHLN, ATTSN-RM, NBCSCA, NHL.TV).
Thornton is second among active players, sixth all-time, with 1,669 games played, 98 behind Marleau, and said the two have been in regular contact during Marleau’s march toward hockey history.
“Whenever he passes someone in games played, I’ve always made it a point to fire him a text,” Thornton said. “He’s going to be one of those guys throughout my lifetime that I’m always going to check on to make sure everything’s going good. That’s a good friend to have.
“Patty and I met each other when we played on the Team Canada Under-18 team. I think I was 17 at the time. So, we’ve had a friendship for 24 years. There are not too many friendships that have lasted that long. It makes this record even more special.”
Months after representing Canada together, Thornton and Marleau were the top two picks in the 1997 NHL Draft; Thornton selected No. 1 by the Boston Bruins, Marleau No. 2 by the Sharks.
Eight years later they became teammates again, this time in the NHL. On Nov. 30, 2005, the Bruins traded Thornton to the Sharks in a four-player deal that sent forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau and defenseman Brad Stuart to Boston.
For the next 15 years, they were the faces of the Sharks franchise. Over that time, Thornton got an inside look at the qualities that have allowed Marleau to maintain such remarkable durability.
“He skates so well,” Thornton said. “Physically he’s been one of the top three players on every team he’s ever been on in terms of strength. He’s a powerful, powerful guy.
“When you see pictures of Gordie even at 50, you could see he was just a powerful man. You see Patty Marleau and he’s built too. He’s very durable because he’s so strong, very flexible, but ultimately he puts in the work during the offseason. He doesn’t take a day off and he’s always trying to get better. He never takes a second off.”
Marleau left the Sharks and signed with the Maple Leafs before the 2017-18 season. After two seasons with Toronto he returned to the Sharks, and then was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. He signed a one-year contract with San Jose on Oct. 13.
Thornton’s run with the Sharks ended when he signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs on Oct. 18. He ranks second behind Marleau on San Jose’s all-time list for games played (1,595; 1,104), points (1,110; 1,055) and is first in assists (804).
“Even with playing with Patty all those years, it’s still amazing to think about what he’s doing,” Thornton said. “It’s one of those things that when you hear about the games played by Gordie Howe, you think it’s one of those things that’s untouchable. He was part of the League for so long. You wouldn’t have dreamed of anybody touching that milestone. So, when you’re beating one of Mr. Hockey’s records, it’s impressive.
“I care deeply for Patty. He has the biggest heart and an infectious laugh when he laughs. He has a great sense of humor.
“You just hope that you’re allowed to have a friend like Patrick Marleau because it really is special.”