With a mere six points through 19 games, Patrick Marleau is on pace for just 26 points, which would be the lowest total of his entire 19-year career.
Even in the lockout shortened 2013 season, Marleau tallied 31 points in 48 games.
Realistically speaking, at 37-years old and with declining point totals in each of the last three seasons, (70 to 57, 57 to 48, and now 48 to on pace for 26), Marleau will never truly be great again.
Marleau is quite simply no longer a primary player. He is a complementary player. As such, No. 12 has often fallen all the way down to the Sharks' third line over the last two seasons. However, the best spot for him might actually be where he has spent the past four periods, back on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
Mixing Things Up
Over those past four periods, Marleau, Thornton and Pavelski have scored twice at even strength with Thornton adding an assist on the man advantage. Their puck possession has been dominant, albeit against Arizona and New Jersey, but their cycle game has clicked better in the last four periods than at any point all season. The success they've had in this small sample size isn't all that surprising having come with Marleau added to the line.
For most of the season thus far, the Thornton and Pavelski line had been rather inconsistent. Pavelski's put up his usual point totals, but Thornton has been a bit off and the final spot on the line has been constantly in flux.
At this moment, Marleau is the best fit on the opposite wing. Tomas Hertl would be the best fit if he was a pure winger, but he has developed into a terrific centerman, providing the Sharks with quality depth as the third line center behind Thornton and Couture. As for the left wing spot with the Joes, nobody has taken ahold of it this season. The two most notable auditions on the top line have been free-agent addition Mikkel Boedker and rookie Kevin Labanc, but neither lasted very long in that role.
With Hertl now sidelined indefinitely with yet another injury to his right knee, Marleau is far and away the best option to play left wing with the Joes. While Marleau can also play the role of third line center, he is no longer the caliber of player capable of carrying a third line. Playing wing on the top line is where he will be the most effective.
Reunited & It Feels So Good
The Marleau, Thornton and Pavelski trio played together as a line for pretty much the entirety of the 2011-12 season and the start of the 2013 season. During this time they dominated the competition. Certainly it has been awhile since we have seen these three together for a significant amount of time, but Marleau's skill set fits better than any other healthy forward on the roster. His speed is an ideal complement to the lack of top-end speed of Thornton and Pavelski, plus he is a pure finisher. Boedker brought speed to the line earlier this season, but he lacks the finishing ability. Labanc meanwhile has the finishing ability, but lacks the skating speed.
When Hertl does eventually return, he should do so at the center position. The Czech youngster makes the third line far better as the middle man than Marleau does as the pivot. Unlike Marleau, Hertl's two-way game, face-off abilities and board work are incredibly strong. In a year where the Sharks have surprisingly struggled in the circle, Hertl has won 56% of his draws compared to just 44% for Marleau.
Quite simply, at this stage of his career, Marleau's speed and finishing ability are the main assets remaining in his game. Playing center on a third line or even wing on the third line with lesser skilled linemates isn't taking advantage of his strengths. Even though the point totals have been in decline, Marleau still managed to score 25 goals last year. Not to mention, five of his six points this year are goals. Barring a strange dip in goal scoring, Marleau will likely finish the year as a 20-goal scorer for the 14th time in his career (15th if you project the lockout shortened season over 82 games).
Making Marleau great again may be impossible. But playing him primarily on the top line will certainly ensure making him a 20-goal scorer again and 500 for his career.