Monday, April 19, 2021

Weekend rankings: Marleau’s record, Montreal’s struggles and a new top five entry

The week after the trade deadline can always feel like a bit of a letdown, in that day-after-your-birthday sort of way. You get one month of increasingly frantic trade rumors, the big day finally arrives, and then it’s over and you’re left with one more month of regular season hockey. There are still playoff races to watch, but those won’t be settle for a few weeks at least, so it might feel like there isn’t much to be excited about.

Not this year, though, because we’ve got something extremely rare to celebrate: A major record being set. Patrick Marleau has tied Gordie Howe on the all-time games played list, and will pass him tonight.

OK, yes, “celebrate” might be a little strong for a small segment of fans. I know that some have mixed feelings about Howe’s mark being broken by Marleau, a Hall-of-Very-Good type of player who might not feel worthy of removing hockey royalty from the record book. When I wrote about the record at the start of the season, and how close Marleau was to breaking it, I heard from plenty of fans who had no idea the record would fall this year. Some of them thought it was cool, others weren’t so sure.

I’m guessing most of us have warmed up to the idea by now. Marleau is, by just about all accounts, a legitimately good guy who’s loved by his teammates and just about everyone else who isn’t Jeremy Roenick. And this is one hell of a tough record to break, which is why so many of us grew up assuming Howe’s record would stand forever. Considering how many games Marleau has lost to lockouts and COVID-shortened seasons, it’s amazing that he managed to get here.

From my perspective as a history nerd, the coolest thing about this is that it’s happening at all. Games played is, without a doubt, a major record. Do you realize how long it’s been since somebody set a major career mark for skates? Not at a specific position, or in some minor category nobody knows about. I’m talking the big stuff – games, goals, assists, points, etc.

It’s been a long time. Wayne Gretzky has owned the points record since 1989-90, goals since 1993-94, and assists since 1987-88. Larry Robinson has had the career plus/minus mark since 1984-85. Tiger Williams had held the PIM record since all the way back in 1981-82. Even some of the non-Gretzky scoring records go back a long way, like Dave Andreychuk’s powerplay goal record (2002-03) or Ray Bourque’s shots on goal mark (1997-98). Most of the goalie records are more recent, since they took over the sport in mid-90s. But for skaters? It’s basically been a generation since a major career record has fallen.

Tonight, it will. That’s kind of cool. Tune in to watch it happen, because it may be a while until we see something like this again. (Or it might be a warmup for Alexander Ovechkin catching Gretzky’s goal record in a few years.)

On to this week’s rankings, which won’t set any records, but do include a new team in the top five and a very old one that might be about to leave the bottom five…

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