Patrick Marleau eclipsed Gordie Howe on the NHL's all-time game's played list Monday night. Marleau suited up for the 1,768th time, and setting the new benchmark will be the legacy-defining achievement for a 23-year career that's included two Olympic gold medals, over 500 goals, and nearly 1,200 points.
Marleau accomplished the feat versus the Vegas Golden Knights, who won't play their 1,768th regular-season game as a franchise until the 2039-40 season, as The Athletic's Jesse Granger pointed out.
When a single career spans a generation, there's no shortage of mind-bending stats like the one above to marvel over. But perhaps the most ridiculous is the fact Marleau has appeared in at least one game with 37% of players in the 104-year history of the league.
But rather than dive into all the numbers, let's take a broader look back and remember what the world looked like when Marleau's career started.
Oct. 1, 1997, is when it all began. The San Jose Sharks had drafted Marleau second overall a few months prior on the strength of his 125-point season with the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds. At barely 18-years-old, Marleau cracked the Sharks' opening night roster, going pointless in 12:15 against the Edmonton Oilers in his NHL debut.
The NHL was in a drastically different spot back then: The league was at the peak of the dead-puck era, and franchises were being relocated or introduced left, right, and center. Marleau's career began the same year the Carolina Hurricanes debuted in their migration from Hartford. The Colorado Avalanche were only two years removed from being the Quebec Nordiques, and the Phoenix Coyotes were in their second season after their previous stint as the Winnipeg Jets 1.0. The Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Atlanta Thrashers (later Jets 2.0) didn't even exist yet.
The Detroit Red Wings entered Marleau's first season as defending champions, finally getting over the hump and winning their first of three Stanley Cups in a five-year span.
Meanwhile, the reigning individual award winners and all-star teams were stacked with Hall of Fame talent.
|Hart Trophy||Dominik Hasek|
|Art Ross Trophy||Mario Lemieux (122)|
|Goal scoring leader*||Keith Tkachuk (52)|
|Norris Trophy||Brian Leetch|
|Vezina Trophy||Dominik Hasek|
|Calder Trophy||Bryan Berard|
|Frank J. Selke Trophy||Michael Peca|
* - The Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy wasn't officially introduced until the 1998-99 season*
|First team all-stars||Position||Second team all-stars|
|Dominik Hasek||G||Martin Brodeur|
|Brian Leetch||D||Chris Chelios|
|Sandis Ozolinsh||D||Scott Stevens|
|Mario Lemieux||C||Wayne Gretzky|
|Teemu Selanne||RW||Jaromir Jagr|
|Paul Kariya||LW||John LeClair|
To go from sharing the ice with so many legends who are now years removed from the current game to sharing a line and forging a friendship with Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews - who wasn't even one month old when Marleau started - is a testament to the 41-year-old's unparalleled longevity.
Marleau ultimately finished his rookie season with 32 points in 74 games, good for sixth in Calder voting. Joe Thornton, the only player drafted before Marleau in 1997 and his longtime Sharks teammate, mustered only seven points in his freshman year.
Marleau's NHL debut, while fun to look back on now, hardly registered in the grand scheme of the sports world at the time. The Florida Marlins were weeks away from shocking the baseball universe and winning their first World Series, while Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and co. were preparing to embark on "The Last Dance" of the Chicago Bulls dynasty. Brett Favre and Barry Sanders were authoring MVP performances in the NFL, while a young Peyton Manning played out his final NCAA season for Tennessee, dominating the rest of the SEC before being drafted first overall early in 1998.
Elsewhere, the stacked United States Ryder Cup team was reeling after a single-point loss to a savvy European squad at the 1997 event in Spain. USA's squad featured a baby-faced Tiger Woods fresh off his first Masters win, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, and Jim Furyk, among several other high-profile names.
Outside the world of sports, some huge names and releases in entertainment headlined late 1997.
As Marleau got started in the pros, Jerry Seinfeld and his pals were freshly into the final season of their hit sitcom. "Seinfeld" would finish the 1997-98 television season atop the charts with a 21.7 rating, edging out "ER," "Veronica's Closet," "Friends," and "Monday Night Football."
The top movie in American box offices during Marleau's debut was "The Peacemaker" - an action thriller starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. The film raked in $12 million in its opening weekend and was followed up by some huge flicks in the following months, including "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "Scream 2," and the critically-acclaimed drama "Titanic."
Boyz II Men's "4 Seasons of Loneliness" overtook Mariah Carey's "Honey" for the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of Marleau's debut. Usher ("You Make Me Wanna..."), LeAnn Rimes ("How Do I Live"), and the Backstreet Boys ("Quit Playing Games") rounded out the top five, while The Notorious B.I.G., Spice Girls, and Third Eye Blind were other prominent names near the top of the charts.