Patrick Marleau: Is It Time for the San Jose Sharks to Trade Their Star Forward?

Simon Cherin-GordonContributor IIIJuly 6, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 10:  Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on March 10, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It seems that every offseason a large contingent of San Jose Sharks fans call for Patrick Marleau to be traded.

It's only natural.

Like all sports fans, Sharks fans want their team to win a championship. And every year, Team Teal has come up short.

Since Patrick Marleau has been with the team since 1997 and the face of the franchise since the lockout, he gets blamed—for the most part unfairly—for the Sharks' failure to win championships.

Marleau has been labeled a "choker" or a "gutless performer" many times and has developed a reputation as a guy who shrinks under pressure.

However, the numbers disagree.

Marleau's .41 goals/playoff game (52 goals in 129 playoff games) is better than his regular season ratio of .34 goals/game (387 goals in 1,117 regular season games).

Of course, not all of the blame is unwarranted. Marleau does make more money than any Shark besides Joe Thornton, so he is expected to lead the team. And while Marleau has had many dominating playoff performances over the years, he's also disappeared in several big moments.

However, this really has nothing to do with answering the question of whether San Jose general manager Doug Wilson should or should not move Patrick Marleau.

As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently pointed out, sports analysis is far too often dictated by generalities. Generalities are no more prevalent in any discussion than they are in the perpetual media dialogue on Patrick Marleau.

Luckily for Sharks fans, Doug Wilson is in charge of their team, not Jeremy Roenick. Wilson constructs his roster based on stronger, more concrete analysis.

The first question that comes up when trying to assess a player's worth accurately is this: What does he bring to his team?

Patrick Marleau is an elite goal scorer in the NHL. Since the lockout, he's scored 30 or more goals in all but one season. He may have peaked—he scored 30 goals last year after averaging 40 over the previous three seasons—but Marleau is still one of the 20 most gifted lamp-lighters in the league.

Marleau's game is built around his rare skating ability. His acceleration allows him to stretch the ice, putting a ton of pressure on defenses. His stick-handling and elusiveness make him a nearly impossible cover, and his deceptive wrist shot gives goalies nightmares.

Marleau also dominates the offensive ice with his intelligence. He knows how to slide into prime scoring areas at the right time, anticipates when to pass and when to shoot, and knows when to jump into the rush.

Defensively, Marleau is well above average. A true center, Marleau is great on faceoffs and excellent at using his stick to defend. He's more physical than the average speedy winger, and takes pride in playing sound defense.

The Sharks are obviously a much better team with on the ice. So the next question Doug Wilson must ask himself is this: How does Marleau hurt the team?

Marleau's cap hit is $6.9 million, which leaves San Jose stuck between a rock and a hard place.

San Jose was not a Stanley Cup-caliber team last year. They had too little scoring depth, too little speed, too little puck-moving ability and too little physicality. And while the Brad Stuart addition has helped correct the latter two problems, the Sharks are still largely the same flawed team they were last year.

Unfortunately, the team is up against the salary cap and cannot add more scoring depth, speed or physicality without moving a large contract.

The only other major cap hits on the Sharks payroll are going towards Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns. Thornton and Boyle are even better players than Marleau, and Burns is too young and talented to move.

This means that trading Patrick Marleau may be the only way for San Jose to improve its roster.

Although the Sharks will not receive equal talent for Marleau—a team taking on a player who's already peaked and has a sizable cap hit isn't going to give up a more talented player—they could gain depth while clearing enough cap space to bring in another impact player.

If and when Patrick Marleau is traded, Sharks fans will miss him greatly. Even the ones calling for him to be traded year after year will see the team without him and immediately realize how rare a talent he was.

Despite this, moving Marleau at this point—for, of course, the right package—is the right move for San Jose.

It isn't because Marleau is a bad leader, a soft player, a gutless performer or a choker. It's because, after a long, tough look at the Sharks, a Patrick Marleau trade makes sense from a purely hockey stance.

The only stance that has ever mattered to Doug Wilson.