Thursday November 5th, 2015

On Tuesday night, in a 5–2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the San Jose Sharks celebrated their 25th anniversary by throwing it back with their classic teal sweaters for “Heritage Jersey Night.” It’s just one of the many events the team has planned to mark a quarter century of NHL hockey in Northern California.

Early on in their NHL tenure, the Sharks were a laughing stock, mustering only 17 and 11 wins in their first two seasons. But since then the team has become a formidable mainstay in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs only four times since.

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San Jose is still seeking its first Stanley Cup, but not for lack of top-end talent throughout the years. Here’s our countdown of the Top 5 Sharks of all time and the impact they had on the club.

5. Marc-Edouard Vlasic

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Third all time in games played for the Sharks (682), Vlasic has spent his entire NHL career in Northern California. Offensive flair has never been part of his game. It’s his unheralded play in his own zone that makes him the type of player that most teams crave. The Sharks have long been blessed with playmaking forwards, but the confidence to create plays in the offensive zone is always aided by the knowledge that you have a mobile and competent defenseman like Vlasic in your own end.

When the Sharks won three division titles in a row (2009, ’10, ’11), Vlasic was a horse, logging the second-most minutes of any defenseman for three seasons straight. (Dan Boyle, the leader in that category, didn’t make this list because of his time spent with other NHL teams.)

Even though he’s only 28, it’s hard to imagine Vlasic not retiring as a Shark.

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4. Evgeni Nabokov

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The Sharks’ all-time leader in wins (293), no goalie represents the teal jersey better than Nabokov. During his peak, he was one of the league’s elite netminders, including landing a first team All-Star spot and being a Vezina Trophy Finalist in 2008. He was a pivotal member of the Sharks’ first three division titles from 2008 to 2010 and won over the Sharks faithful with his electric, full-body style of play.

It’s hard to pin an entire career on one play, but ask around and many Sharks fans will tell you that one of the more dramatic plays they ever witnessed was Nabokov’s reaching glove save in overtime of Game 6 of the 2008 Western Conference semifinals against the Dallas Stars.

Nabokov robbed Brad Richards at point-blank range with an open net in the first overtime frame. The Sharks and Stars would go on to play four overtime periods in the eighth-longest game in NHL history. Nabokov stopped 53 of 55 shots that night.

Over time, he would go on to nab 50 shutouts as a Shark. Impressive stuff.

3. Joe Pavelski

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The Sharks’ current captain, Pavelski was an up-and-coming offensive force during the Sharks string of division titles in the late 2000s and early 2010s. He might not be the most physical player on the ice, but Pavelski is a smart, versatile playmaker that has grown into one of the most dangerous players in the NHL when he’s on the ice.

It took some time for him to solidify himself as a leader on the Sharks, but after Joe Thornton was stripped of the captaincy, Pavelski claimed it before this season. Himself a Shark throughout his entire career, Pavelski’s worked his way up from being the 205th pick in the 2003 NHL draft to third all time in points for the Sharks.

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What makes Pavelski so dangerous is his ability to be used in a number of situations: penalty kill, power play, you name it. And perhaps most dangerous is his ability come up big in the clutch.

If the Sharks have any chance of contending in the next few years, it’ll be Pavelski who leads the way.

2. Joe Thornton

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Jumbo Joe was the centerpiece of probably the best trade the Sharks ever pulled off. On Nov. 30, 2005, the then-Bruins captain and former No. 1 draft pick was shipped to the Sharks and would ultimately become an indelible part of their history. Now second in games played and points all time for the Sharks, the 6'4" playmaker is an assist machine. He ranks first all time in assists for the Sharks, and even at 36 he can still rack ‘em up.

Many point to Thornton’s lack of Stanley Cup rings, and the Sharks’ continued failure to get into the Finals, even when loaded with talent, is often associated with Thornton. But let’s consider Thornton more for what he is than what he isn’t: the club’s all-time leader in plus/minus and points per game. For a time, he was also a valuable voice in the locker room that helped the careers of many future Sharks stars, including Tomas Hertl.

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1. Patrick Marleau

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Marleau is on the verge of joining the 1,000-point club: truly elite territory. At 36, he’s not in the elite conversation any more. But of course, throughout his career, he rarely was.

Only three times in the past 17 seasons with the Sharks has Marleau scored at more than a point-per-game clip. But what Marleau trades in is consistency: he’s never played less than 74 games in a full NHL season and he’s hit the 50-point mark in 11 of those 17 seasons. The second pick in the 1997 draft enjoyed a resurgence during the 2013–14 campaign, notching 33 goals.

The Sharks leader in games played and points by a sizeable margin, Marleau has spent his entire career with the franchise and, in many ways, has become a symbol of the team: consistently strong, well-loved by fans but still on the verge of greatness, not yet having taken that final elusive step.

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