Few individual players ever make an impact on an entire franchise the way Owen Nolan did for the San Jose Sharks.
But that doesn’t make compiling a list of Sharks greats over the last 23 seasons any less challenging.
Numbers will eventually hang in the rafters in San Jose; you can be assured of that. It's hard to believe there won’t be at least a couple from the current group.
In the meantime, here are two measures of criteria:
- Players must have played a minimum of four seasons, or 200 games for San Jose.
- Players are judged solely on their time in San Jose, not for their overall body of work.
Emphasis is given to players past and present who have left or will leave an undeniable legacy in San Jose even as time goes on.
Without further ado, here are the San Jose Sharks' greatest players of all time at each position.
Evgeni Nabokov patrolled the net for San Jose for nine seasons. His acrobatic saves and consistent play always gave the team a chance to win.
Evgeni “Nabby” Nabokov backstopped the San Jose Sharks for nearly a decade. He is the team record holder in every goaltending stat—good and bad.
His 563 career starts are more than triple his nearest competition, as are his 1,294 goals against.
Nabokov played on good Sharks teams and bad. He led San Jose to the Western Conference Finals twice, only to fall short of the ultimate goal.
Despite the countless chants of “Nabby! Nabby!” that rang through The Tank during his time and the No. 20 jerseys that still do, Nabokov’s tenure in San Jose will always be marred by the team’s inability to fulfill championship expectations.
Should the Sharks finally break through and compete for a Stanley Cup in the coming years, Nabokov’s place atop the list of Sharks goaltending greats will very likely be threatened, at least in the eyes of a fanbase desperately yearning for a Cup.
But it would be a shame for fans to discredit Nabokov’s time and efforts in San Jose due to lack of hardware. He still stands as the only Shark to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
His consistent play for nearly a decade rightly places him atop the list of San Jose goaltenders.
Honorable Mention: Arturs Irbe (1991-1996)
At just 26, Marc-Edouard Vlasic already has seven seasons under his belt and has yet to peak for San Jose.
It feels awkward putting Marc-Edouard Vlasic on a historic list. He’s only 26 years old, after all. But already in his eighth season, Vlasic is shaping up to be the best defenseman in Sharks history.
Since breaking into the league, Vlasic has always played a primary role on the Sharks blue line. Even as a 19-year-old rookie, he averaged over 22 minutes of ice time per game.
He’s proven to be durable, starting his NHL career with 253 consecutive games played before missing 18 games with a lower body injury in 2010. Since then, Vlasic has appeared in all but two games for San Jose.
He has yet to offer the gaudy stats that have become synonymous with the league’s best defensemen; he’s never even been the leading scorer for defensemen on his own team. But that’s a measurement more appropriate for forwards.
Vlasic ranks second all-time in plus-minus for San Jose and has been an essential component on the penalty kill for his entire career.
While talks have swirled around the passing of the baton to Logan Couture as the leader for San Jose up front, Vlasic has quietly assumed that role on the Sharks blue line.
His age may make his presence on this list one to be debated, but the numbers speak for themselves.
Despite a slew of rugged, less heralded Sharks defensemen, there's simply no denying Dan Boyle's combination of leadership and on-ice production.
I tried, please believe me, I tried. I didn’t want to go with two current defensemen. I was entirely prepared to make Dan Boyle the fodder for comments.
But as I sat comparing defensemen of San Jose’s past, they all left something to be desired. Mike Rathje’s career was riddled with injuries. Sandis Ozolinsh, despite logging the best season ever by a Sharks defenseman, only played the one full season for San Jose. And I didn’t want Marcus Ragnarsson to simply be a token representative of the early years.
I had finally settled on Scott Hannan as a perfect mix of new and old but could not honestly answer the question: “How can Hannan be better than Boyle?”
Despite his defensive shortcomings, in a league where offensive defensemen are essential to team success, this second spot simply can’t not belong to Boyle.
He leads all Sharks defensemen in goals, assists and points. Since his arrival in 2008, Boyle has led the Sharks in ice time each season and quarterbacks a power play that has never finished a season below 20 percent.
But Boyle’s contributions go beyond the stat line. He is a fierce competitor and a vocal leader both on and off the ice for a team that has lacked one in recent years. His fluid skating and on-ice direction provides organization to the team defensively any time he's on the ice.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Rathje, Scott Hannan, Marcus Ragnarsson, Sandis Ozolinsh
Fifteen seasons and still going strong, Patrick Marleau's name has become synonymous with the San Jose Sharks.
You’d be hard-pressed to find any San Jose Sharks franchise rankings that don’t culminate with Mr. Shark, Patrick Marleau. In his 16th season with the Sharks, Marleau is headed for rarefied air reserved for the likes of players like Yzerman, Lidstrom, Sakic and Brodeur.
He is the club’s all-time leader in games played, goals, points, game-winning goals, power-play goals and overtime winners. He plays in all scenarios and still, at 34, possesses dynamic breakaway speed.
His tenure in San Jose has not been one without turbulence. Repeated playoffs failures have led to harsh criticism by some. Others have more delicately mulled whether the Sharks would be better off trading Marleau.
The controversies only serve to further solidify Marleau’s value and significance in San Jose, and no list is complete without him.
When all is said and done, Cup or not, expect Marleau’s number to be hanging in the rafters.
Honorable Mention: Jeff Friesen (1994-2001)
It's hard to imagine what the Sharks would be like today if not for the 2005 trade that brought Joe Thornton to San Jose.
After 10 straight losses left the Sharks in the basement a quarter of the way through the 2005-06 season, the Sharks needed a change. That change arrived via blockbuster trade, bringing Joe Thornton to San Jose.
Thornton wasted no time making himself at home on the West Coast, recording 16 points in his first eight games for San Jose, and leading the team to seven wins in the process.
That season, Thornton proceeded to lead the league in scoring, claiming the first scoring title by a Sharks player, and was awarded the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.
Since arriving in San Jose, Thornton has missed a whopping five games. He is the franchise leader in assists and still the only Sharks player to top the 100-point plateau in a single season.
He remains one of the league’s best passers, second only to Jaromir Jagr among active players in career assists. He is a dominant force on the boards as well as the faceoff dot.
The Sharks have never missed the playoffs in Thornton’s tenure; however his leadership has yet to guide San Jose to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final. Thornton currently sits third, behind the Coyotes' Shane Doan and teammate Patrick Marleau in games played amongst active players without an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
Yet his historical place in San Jose remains unquestionable.
Honorable Mention: Mike Ricci (1997-2004)
No player had a more significant effect on the San Jose Sharks than their first true star.
Patrick Marleau may hold most of the Sharks scoring records, but no Shark had a greater impact on the franchise than Owen Nolan.
The epitome of a power forward, Nolan did everything for San Jose, becoming the team’s first bona fide star. His combination of speed, skill and strength gave San Jose a player to build its franchise around.
The heart and soul of the Sharks, Nolan wore the “C” for nearly five full seasons, becoming the first player to captain the club for more than two seasons. His leadership made him a natural mentor to young Sharks like Marleau, Jeff Friesen and Marco Sturm.
As a result, the Sharks reached the playoffs for five straight seasons, including in each of Nolan’s four full seasons as team captain, legitimizing the Sharks and setting the foundation for the future.
His four All-Star appearances for San Jose yielded arguably the most memorable moment in franchise history. After scoring two goals in eight seconds (an All-Star record), Nolan completed the hat trick in front of his home crowd in San Jose with the most memorable of finishes.
Despite playing another five full seasons after being traded in 2003, Nolan officially—and rightfully—retired as a San Jose Shark in 2010.
Honorable Mention: Pat Falloon (1991-96)