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Petshark: Talking Stick

Patrick Marleau: the canary who won’t sing?

Doug Wilson says you need to keep your head, take emotion out of the equation when deciding what changes to make in the offseason.  As a fan, I have no responsibility to do that. Additionally, I lack information, as a lot of people do.  What we see from outside the organization, even what is shared with the media, is so limited as to only be a glimpse of the whole picture.

That doesn’t mean we can’t piece something together from what we do see, as the two-dimensional residents of Flatland might understand a three-dimensional star in their midst.  Their understanding will not be perfect but they can extrapolate from what they do see, and suspect, or feel.

I won’t argue that keeping Marleau is the best thing, even if that’s what I feel.  Maybe he needs a reset, moving might be good for him.  What I fear is that trading him would be such a big, dramatic move, it would throw up such a dust cloud that no one would feel pressure to address the more pernicious reasons behind the team’s failures.  If you can’t get the best out of Patrick Marleau, your own prodigy, someone who has a shitload of talent and a strong vested interest in your team’s success, what is wrong with you?

I want to look at how one writer recommends we accept the end of the Marleau era, and then goes on to make no sense whatsoever.  Here Tim Kawakami explains what is wrong with Patrick Marleau:

The Sharks want peace and harmony, they promote the calmer nature and warmer spirit of hockey-dom in the Bay Area, and Thornton has turned into their leading ambassador for all that.

Marleau, though, has become emblematic of the flip side: If not much is always demanded, maybe, when the heat is turned up against tougher teams, not much is always produced. -Mercury News

So Marleau is lazy, you have to kick him in the behind to get anything out of him, not like that go-getter Thornton.  That is sort of what Jeremy Roenick has said in the past, though he always acknowledged that his statements were meant to anger his former teammate, to make Marleau play better.  These theories contradict each other.  Either Marleau has pride to wound or he is so lazy that he can’t be bothered.  Both cannot be true, maybe neither observer knows what’s going on in Marleau’s head.

But let’s assume the present version of Patrick Marleau is incapable of being inspired by his team’s struggles, lacks pride enough to win for winning’s sake, like Kawakami implies.  Let’s move on to how a team might go about convincing such a lazy overpaid bum to waive that pesky clause in his contract, and why the team needs to do so:

It’s excusable that Marleau was held without a point, but it’s not excusable that former Shark Scott Nichol, a much less talented player, was the more catalytic performer in the series.

So the culture has to change.

If the Sharks keep Marleau, they can’t keep protecting him — younger players such as Logan Couture and Brent Burns can see that, and maybe the younger players will start to seek the same protection.

Which will never lead to a championship. -ibid

I’m not sure how the Sharks “protect” Marleau except by keeping him.  Maybe they should say mean things about him?  Maybe they should bench him like Ovechkin, scratch him even.  But Kawakami doesn’t say that.  He implies that Marleau should be “catalytic” like Scott Nichol.  Nichol’s success is not relevant to Marleau’s failure except as an indicator of the Sharks’ less visible problems.  No matter the catalyst, if the formula’s a dud it’s not going to spark, as Scott Nichol no doubt knows.

The title isn’t “It’s time for San Jose Sharks to find out what’s eating Patrick Marleau.”  No, Kawakami argues, they need to trade him and here is how they convince him to let them do it:

Even if Marleau isn’t traded, this has to signify the end of the Sharks doing more to protect their top players than to actually push them toward a Cup.

And if it’s explained to him that way, maybe Marleau would not want to be here much longer. -ibid

I see, so the threat of being made to win a championship would be so unbearable to him that he will cave?  He’ll yield,  waive that nasty clause and request a trade to Long Island, where they will never ask him to do such disgusting things. 

Is Kawakami’s Marleau merely an agreeable, sweet-natured lazy person who just can’t muster the energy to help his team be better?  Why can’t he?  He used to do it, is this a late-onset case of lazy?  Can they vaccinate against it?  It could already be lurking, dormant in half a dozen Sharks!

Is the fault in the way the organization treats its players?  Should they have them running tires in the parking lot, isolate them in barracks during the season?  Aside from the way the NHLPA might squawk over that, giving much to your highly valued players doesn’t make them soft and useless.  Even Sun Tzu understood that.

The Sharks don’t need to be so Draconian.  They could just bench top line and lower line alike.  They have lots of guys who can fill those spots.  Or they would, if enough were ready, if the team had as much patience with younger players as it has with vets new and old.  In Worcester, young Sharks learn the same power play San Jose uses, and also the penalty kill, they out shoot opponents again and again and still lose.  San Jose does better than Worcester.  How can that be, if the strategy is the same and the strategy is good?  Is someone in San Jose compensating for some systemic deficit?

Kawakami calls for a culture change, but rejects the importance of plans, systems or strategies:

Essentially, when the Sharks are outplayed, they stay outplayed.

It isn’t about tactics as much as it is about determination—if all else fails, just make it as tough as possible for the opponent.

Did the Sharks make it tough against St. Louis? No, they did not. -ibid

Thank goodness tactics don’t matter as much as determination.  Make it “tough” on your opponent and you can safely sit back with a one goal lead for a whole third period of a playoff elimination game.  Perhaps he means they should just hurt their opponent more?  Hit them harder, batter them physically.  Do that and you don’t need “tactics.”  Ask the Penguins how that worked out.

Maybe the Sharks’ systems are just fine (well, we know the penalty kill isn’t fine at all, but the rest could be salvaged).  Maybe it’s that the communication lines are down.  How long have they been down?  Has the team aggressively tried to repair them?

The Sharks’ recent performance seems to track Marleau’s more than Thornton’s.  I wonder how it is that, with all those highly competitive guys in the room, how it is that Marleau’s lack of zeal has a bigger impact than Thornton’s enthusiasm?  Is it because Marleau is always one of the first on the ice for pre-game skates?  Is he elbowing Thornton out of the frame at every turn?  Pavelski is out there early too, are they mutinous conspirators bent on losing? 

While I marvel at Thornton’s transcendence, I have to wonder if Marleau isn’t a very big canary in a toxic coal mine.

Each season the lower lines are aired out, retooled with new players.  Each year that the team fails, someone has to go.  It has never been Marleau, it’s hardly ever more than one of the top six, because who would brace the sagging roof if not them?  Maybe it is time for Marleau to shrug, maybe he already did.  Now the team needs to find a new helper for Joe “Atlas” Thornton.

Why do I think the team lacks a sound structure?  Couldn’t Marleau be undermining an otherwise perfectly sturdy system, all by his lonesome?  Not unless Wilson has assembled a bunch of depressives highly sensitive to the influence of one guy who’s a real drag.

If it isn’t Marleau’s fault, is it his job to fix it?  Is keeping and fixing Marleau the key?  No, no and no, but when one of the work horses goes down, you should probably stop and figure out what took him down instead of just dragging his carcass out of the way.  You could all be plodding to your doom.

A culture change, that is what’s needed?  I’m not at all convinced that trading Patrick Marleau, or Dan Boyle, represents a change of culture. They traded Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi last summer, they sent Nabokov packing the summer before.  Moving Marleau might be an escalation, but it isn’t really different.

In the widely read, linked and retweeted opinion of Tim Kawakami, Patrick Marleau has become a liability because he’s selfishly moping.  If that’s true, he won’t let the Sharks trade him.  They can force the matter, but it will not be an amicable divorce.

On the other hand, if he cares enough to waive his NMC, cares so much that it’s taken the legs out from under him,  there isn’t much point in trading him.  Sure, it might make people feel better because that guy is a real bummer, all depressed and stuff.  Get rid of him and everyone will be happier, things can carry on as before, everyone trying really hard to get nowhere.

Filed in: , San Jose Sharks, | Petshark: Talking Stick | Permalink
  Tags: canary+in+a+coal+mine, doug+wilson, patrick+marleau, todd+mclellan, trade


gowings's avatar

Great article and nice catchy title….a lot of room for thoughts…

Posted by gowings from MTL on 04/27/12 at 08:20 PM ET

petshark's avatar

Thanks:)  Some of us fans have some unexpected thinking time on our hands.


Posted by petshark from Nor Cal, and on Twitter @petshark47 on 04/28/12 at 01:47 AM ET


As a Sharks fan, I agree that all of the “Marleau has to go” talk is ridiculous.  He’s been one of the team’s best players for a long time, this season included.
That being said, the performance of the TEAM down the stretch and against the Blues left a lot to be desired.
It was not just Marleau.  Pavelski, Clowe, and many others did not put together the types of performances that we’ve seen from them in past years.
That inconsistency is not just due to a lack of determination.  From my standpoint, the level of effort, communication, toughness, and focus was inconsistent from game to game, period to period, even shift to shift.
Some of that is on the coaches, who I felt didn’t allow for any consistency to form and panicked when things weren’t going well by shuffling lines far to often and not adjusting the game plans to account for what a team was shutting down well.
But some of that was on the players as well.  I didn’t see enough effort to win puck battles and races.  I didn’t see enough toughness along the boards and in front of the net.  I didn’t see the level of focus on the situation at hand in too many instances.
There is no “silver bullet” fix for the Sharks right now.  They need to re-group and re-focus on the task at hand and execute next season regardless of who is still around and who isn’t.

Posted by Spencer from San Jose, CA on 04/30/12 at 06:07 PM ET

petshark's avatar

Spencer, I agree.  So many things weren’t working, it’s hard to tell which parts are broken, at least from out here.  I hope tpb, after this wake up call of a season, can make a reasonable assessment and get things back on track.

Posted by petshark from Nor Cal, and on Twitter @petshark47 on 04/30/12 at 08:23 PM ET

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About Petshark: Talking Stick

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net

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