SAN JOSE — For Joe Pavelski, negotiations with the Sharks in 2019 centered as much around the length of a potential new contract as anything else. Coming off a 38-goal season in 2018-2019, Pavelski — regardless of his age — felt that his play warranted the stability of a three-year deal.
That summer, the Dallas Stars offered it to him, and the Sharks didn’t.
Now at 37, Pavelski, in the third year of that contract, is proving the Stars made a wise decision.
Pavelski signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Stars on July 1, 2019, ending his prodigious 13-season run in a teal uniform. He enters Saturday’s game at SAP Center against the Sharks with nine goals and 21 points in 24 games, a year after he had 25 goals and 51 points in 56 games.
“For me, it was a little stunning that Pavs wasn’t coming back,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said Friday. “I thought they were going to make it work and keep a guy like him around as long as you can, but I wasn’t there during those negotiations.”
That time could probably be described as one of the most pivotal in the Sharks’ history, certainly in the tenure of general manager Doug Wilson.
The Sharks simply didn’t have enough room under the salary cap to pay Pavelski, their captain from 2015 to 2019, the fair market value after Couture, Evander Kane, Erik Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Martin Jones were all signed to lengthy contract extensions in the previous two years.
The Sharks also had less than $15 million available in cap space in June of 2019 with several players still left to sign, including then-restricted free agents Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc.
“You have the heart and the head, and you understand these decisions have to be made and they get made,” Wilson said in 2019 after Pavelski signed with Dallas. “But you love what Joe Pavelski brought to this organization for so many years.”
Of course, Kane is now in the AHL, eating up $5.85 million in cap space, and Jones is with the Philadelphia Flyers after the last three years of his six-year, $34.5 million deal was bought out in July. A portion of Jones’ contract will remain on the Sharks’ books until the end of the 2026-27 season.
The Sharks are starting to come out of that transitional period, as they enter Saturday with a 14-12-1 record. But it’s been a long road back to respectability after missing the playoffs the last two seasons.
“It hurts when you lose a guy like that, but this is a business, unfortunately,” Couture said of Pavelski. “So we had to come in and regroup and we didn’t do a good enough job for the last couple years at that.”
Pavelski, meanwhile, played a huge role in Dallas’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020 inside the bubble in Edmonton, collecting 19 points in 27 postseason games. The Stars lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in the final, but Pavelski had a team-high four goals in the series.
Pavelski also played in his 1,000th and 1,100th NHL games with the Stars and scored his 400th career goal Nov. 26 against the Colorado Avalanche — becoming just the 10th American-born player to reach the milestone.
Nine-hundred and sixty-three of those games and 355 of those goals came with the Sharks from 2006 to 2019.
“I don’t think the contract has anything to do with that. I think he’s motivated because he’s an NHL player. He’s an elite NHL player,” Couture said. “He’s hitting milestones that are unbelievable, and he wants to win.”
“He was so good to coach and watch, and so good for the young guys,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. “He showed everybody by example how to work and how to improve every day, no matter where he was in his career and he still does that.
“But in the room, he had a really good calming effect. He’s a guy that other players can lean on and he always had time for everybody.”
Boughner felt that Pavelski’s current legacy with the Sharks is that he showed other players like Couture and Tomas Hertl how to lead, just like Pavelski had an opportunity to learn from veterans like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
“It’s not easy when you get a group of guys like that leaving all within a couple of years of each other and the next group having to take charge,” Boughner said. “But I’m really pleased with the way they have. I think our leadership group now is pretty solid and the room’s responding.”
REIMER BACK: Goalie James Reimer skated in the Sharks’ optional practice Saturday morning and Boughner said the plan was for him to start against the Stars. Reimer last played on Nov. 30 as he missed the last five games with fatigue issues. He backed up Adin Hill on Thursday, though, in the Sharks’ 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
SIMEK BACK: Boughner said Radim Simek would rejoin the Sharks’ lineup Saturday after he was a scratch the last two games. Nicolas Meloche played against Calgary and Minnesota this week and averaged 14:28 in ice time between the two games, seemingly making a case for more ice time going forward.
The Sharks’ homestand continues next week with games against Seattle on Tuesday and Vancouver on Thursday.
“We just want to make sure we’re keeping everybody fresh and putting fresh legs in when we need it,” Boughner said, “but I think (Meloche has) earned the right to be a full-timer here. He has to earn it every day, but I think he could play in this league.”