They became teammates with the Sharks more than a decade ago, won a gold medal for Canada at the 2010 Olympics and each had their captaincies stripped as they became the faces of so many postseason failures in San Jose.
Now at age 36 and after more than 3,000 combined games, 949 goals and 2,610 career points in the regular and postseason, Thornton and Marleau have the opportunity to add the only thing missing on their impressive career resumes if they can win the Stanley Cup.
“It’s just the next step for us,” Thornton said Friday. “We’ve been doing a really good job of staying day to day, shift to shift. This is just another challenge we’re hoping to come out on top on.”
The two will take the ice in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their careers on Monday night in Pittsburgh, ending a long journey that included many disappointments and criticism that was often undeserved.
“It’s two legends,” teammate Brent Burns said. “I’ve said it before. Those two are some of the best players to ever play the game. It’s huge to get them here. They’ve done pretty much everything else. They sometimes take a bad rap in the media, which is unnecessary. Anybody that’s played with them sees the way that they work and what kind of teammates they are, what kind of people they are. They’re two of the best.”
They just haven’t always been considered that way because of the lack of playoff success that was at times as much a reflection on the lack of help they got as it was on any deficiencies in their games.
But both also had times when they failed to raise their game at the biggest points of the season. Thornton went pointless during a seven-game series loss to Montreal in his final playoffs in Boston in 2004 while he played with torn rib cartilage. Thornton also posted a -11 rating in the 2010 playoffs in San Jose when the Sharks got swept by Chicago in the Western Conference final.
Marleau struggled in the 2007-09 playoffs when San Jose got knocked out twice in the second round and then lost as the top seed in the first round to Anaheim in 2009. That led to the Sharks demoting him from captain.
The two have had plenty of playoff success along the way as well, but it has been the failures that colored people’s perceptions of them, none more than blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 in a collapse that ultimately led to Thornton being stripped of the captaincy.
“We’ve been through a lot here,” teammate Logan Couture said. “I’ve only been here seven years but those guys have been here longer than I have and they deserve this. They’ve been through a lot, Patty especially.”
Marleau played 165 playoff games before reaching his first final, the most of any player. He lost his first three trips to the conference final and needed 16 trips to the playoffs to reach the final round.
Thornton was next on that list with 150 games, including two conference final losses before making it to the Cup in his 15th postseason.
The fact they will be there in Sharks uniforms only makes it more special. There was talk they could be traded the summer after the 2014 playoff collapse, Thornton had a public feud with general manager Doug Wilson last season and there were reports that Marleau was seeking a trade earlier this season.
Nothing ever materialized and the two are still in San Jose to the delight of all sides. Thornton is playing perhaps the best two-way hockey of his career, posting three goals and 15 assists through the first three rounds and dominating possession against the other team’s top players.
After spending much of the year as a third-line center, Marleau moved back to his more familiar spot of a second-line wing alongside Couture. He has four goals and eight assists so far, including two helpers in the third period of the conference final clincher against St. Louis.
“We’re just enjoying the ride right now,” Marleau said. “We’ve had some really good teams over the years. This team is a little bit different. The confidence we’ve built over the regular season and now in the playoffs, I think winning on the road helped us get close as a group during the regular season. It carried over into the playoffs so far. Just having each other’s back out there, working for each other.”
When it comes to Steven Stamkos, the drama that unfolded in the minutes prior to the official lineup being announced for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final may not compare to the off-season ahead.
Stamkos is a pending unrestricted free agent, at the end of his five-year, $37.5 million contract. His contract status has provided months of fodder, speculation and excitement about where he could go this summer.
At the age of 26, and one of the most prolific scorers in the league with 312 career goals and 36 this past season, an NHL team is going to have to doll out huge amounts of cash to land the talented forward — the most prized free agent in the past four years — if he decides not to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning and instead tests the open market.
The challenge for the Lightning — having made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and one win shy of the same feat this year — and general manager Steve Yzerman goes beyond trying to reach a deal with Stamkos, though that could be a pricey endeavor as well.
There are numerous players on the Bolts roster that will need new contracts this summer or next. The list includes Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Jonathan Drouin. And they’ll likely all be asking for raises, too.
Especially the 22-year-old Kucherov, who made $711,666 this season, is a restricted free agent this summer as per General Fanager, and had 11 goals and 19 points in 17 post-season games.
Just the realities of the salary cap, with a team loaded with talented players.
“It’s tough to build teams, it’s tough to keep teams together,” said Stamkos, as per the Tampa Bay Times. “Especially when you have so many great young players that are on entry level deals who are going to get a raise. There’s some tough decisions to be made, not only for this organization but for a lot of other organizations.
“I’m sure if both sides want it to work out, we’ll work something out.”
Can youth and talent win out over experience? Team North America, which is compromised exclusively of Canadian and American players born on or after Oct. 2, 1992, will attempt to do just that.
While you can debate the merit of having a young guns team in the World Cup, for many people there is something interesting about seeing the likes of Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Johnny Gaudreau team up to face the world’s best players. With today’s additions, the projected No. 1 pick for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Auston Matthews, will be joining the squad too.
On defense, Shayne Gostisbehere has been added to the mix after his superb rookie campaign with the Philadelphia Flyers. Another standout from the 2016 rookie class, Colton Parayko, will join him on the blueline.
North America’s already interesting collections of forwards added even more intrigue today. In addition to the aforementioned Matthews, Jonathan Drouin is now on the roster. That illustrates just how quickly the perception of Drouin has changed as earlier this year he was demanding a trade out of Tampa Bay and was even at one time suspended in the AHL for refusing to play. However he ended up being a big part of the reason the Lightning made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final without Steven Stamkos.
The squad also added another first overall pick in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While he hasn’t emerged as a superstar in the same vein as some other No. 1 picks, he’s a useful addition to this deep core of forwards.
At the beginning of the year, North America’s goaltending looked like a potential weakness, but this team might even hold up in that department. After all, if Matt Murray is good enough to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, then there’s a chance he’ll be able to hold his own in the World Cup as well. And if not, John Gibson is coming off of a pretty good season himself.
Here’s the full roster for Team North America:
G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
G Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
G Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
D Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
D Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers *
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
D Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets
D Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues *
D Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
D Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets *
F Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
F Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay *
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
F Auston Matthews, Zurich (Swiss) *
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
F J.T. Miller, New York Rangers
F Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
F Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers *
F Brandon Saad, Columbus Blue Jackets
F Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets *
* named to roster today
One player that stands out for his exclusion is Max Domi. He’s coming off of a strong rookie campaign where he scored 18 goals and 52 points in 81 contests with the Arizona Coyotes. His talented teammate Anthony Duclair also failed to make the cut. It’s also somewhat surprising to see Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton and Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau not make the team. You could easily include Alex Galchenyuk in the list of snubs too given that he’s coming off of a 30-goal campaign.
Those seven will join the following 16:
GM Doug Armstrong admitted that it was tough to leave off right-shot d-men like P.K. Subban and Kris Letang, but Pietrangelo was on the 2014 Olympic squad and Burns’ performance this season in San Jose has been tough to overlook. Muzzin, meanwhile, is a left shot who could potentially pair with Doughty, his teammate in Los Angeles.
Up front, Thornton and Giroux made it after being left off the Sochi team. Marchand wasn’t a strong consideration in 2014, but the 37 goals he scored this season for the Bruins put him squarely on Hockey Canada’s radar.
Corey Perry was perhaps the most notable omission among the forwards.
Related: Subban may not make Team Canada