“With everything that’s going on, my biggest fear is that I don’t thank everybody, that I’m going to miss somebody,” Marleau said before the game. “I just want to be able to thank everybody, and if I miss somebody, I’m so sorry, but I’ll eventually, you know, try and make it right and thank everybody that needs to be thanked. Just very grateful.”
The 41-year-old is in his 23rd NHL season and has played 1,596 games in 21 seasons with the Sharks, including 45 this season to extend his streak of consecutive regular-season games to 899, fourth-longest in NHL history.
“This is more than just a personal milestone, I think. I think this is a statement to each and every player that has played this game at any point in time,” Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson said. “This is an accomplishment that I don’t think anyone saw coming, and it’s one that’s been creeping up on us fast. You know, we still haven’t been able to grasp or realize that it’s actually going to happen until now. I think that this is not only a historic moment for Patty and this organization, but I think it’s a historic for the entire league and every player that has played this game with or against him or prior to his time.”
The native of Aneroid, Saskatchewan, also played 164 games in two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs (2017-19) and eight games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
Howe has held the NHL record for regular-season games played since Nov. 26, 1961, when he surpassed Ted Lindsay and became the first player to reach 1,000 games. Howe played 1,687 games in 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before retiring in 1971.
After coming out of retirement in 1973 to play 419 games in six seasons in the World Hockey Association for Houston and New England, Howe returned to the NHL for one season after New England joined the NHL as the Hartford Whalers in 1979. Howe played 80 games for the Whalers in 1979-80 before retiring again.
A native of Floral, Saskatchewan, Howe played his final regular-season game against the Red Wings on April 6, 1980, at 52 years old. He was 88 when he died June 10, 2016.
Howe is second in NHL history with 801 goals (Wayne Gretzky, 894) and fourth in points with 1,850. Marleau is 23rd in goals (566) and 50th in points (1,196).
Selected by San Jose with the No. 2 pick in the 1997 NHL Draft, Marleau made his NHL debut 16 days after his 18th birthday, Oct. 1, 1997, against the Edmonton Oilers. He is the youngest player to make his NHL debut since Hy Buller played at 17 years, 267 days for the Red Wings on Dec. 7, 1943.
After playing 1,493 games in 19 seasons with the Sharks, Marleau signed a three-year contract with the Maple Leafs as an unrestricted free agent July 2, 2017. Marleau was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on June 22, 2019, and had the final season of his contact bought out without playing a game for them.
Marleau returned to San Jose to play 58 games last season before being traded to Pittsburgh on Feb. 24, 2020. He became an unrestricted free agent and signed a one-year contract with the Sharks on Oct. 13.
“What an accomplishment,” said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer, who coached Marleau with San Jose from 2015-2019. “Any time you’re passing Gordie Howe on any list, it’s a wow-type moment. I understand his family’s going to be there. I’m excited to have a front-row seat.”
Marleau has played in four decades: 196 games in the 1990s, 716 in the 2000s, 782 in the 2010s and 74 in the 2020s. Maple Leafs forward Joe Thornton (173 games) and Washington Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara (119) are the other active players to play in the NHL during the 1990s.
Sharks coach Bob Boughner said he believes Marleau’s record will never be broken.
“They probably said this about Gordie Howe as well,” Boughner said. “… You touched on it, and I said this to the media the other day: The difference in the game and the speed, how guys prepare and the shape they come into, come into camp with. Just the general schedule. I don’t see anybody lasting that long. And you know, the money’s different. That’s a big part of it too. I mean, early on in Patty’s career, the players weren’t getting paid like they’re getting paid now. Guys are making 11, 12 million bucks a year and playing to 41 years old. I think that’s going to be very, very rare.”
Howe is the only player to play in the NHL in five decades: 191 games in the 1940s, 690 in the 1950s, 701 in the 1960s, 139 in the 1970s and 46 in the 1980s.
Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter, who was Sharks coach when Marleau made his NHL debut, said several factors have contributed to the record.
“No. 1, it’s easy to say longevity, but you have to say professionalism, training, healthy, play two positions, great attitude, great work ethic, not playing just for the money but playing because he loves the game,” Sutter said. “All those things go together. It’s just going to get added on to. I know it breaks Gordie’s record, not including WHA games, but it’s significant. Can keep playing if he wants to play because he obviously still has a great passion for it.”
NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika and independent correspondent Danny Webster contributed to this report