If Joe Pavelski signs elsewhere, Sharks will miss more than just goals, assists

SAN JOSE — Joe Pavelski meets with the Dallas Stars, who seem ready to take the next step after nearly beating the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in the second round of the playoffs.

Pavelski is then seen in Tampa Bay, looking comfortable as he talks with Lightning general manager Julien Brisebois and coach Jon Cooper, who, no doubt, want to find that missing ingredient after they were swept in the first round.

The possibility of Pavelski leaving San Jose for another franchise has been discussed for about a year, or right after July 1, 2018, when Logan Couture signed an eight-year contract extension and the Sharks captain went into the season without a new deal.

But it’s hitting home now.

The Sharks could begin the 2019-20 season without a No. 8 in their lineup for the first time since the start of the 2006-07 season.

If that’s the case, they’ll miss a lot more than just the 355 goals Pavelski, an unrestricted free agent in four days, has put up since he came into the NHL in 2006.

“He’s as important as (Joe Thornton) is to this group,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said May 23. “They drive the environment. They drive the messaging every day in here. From a coach’s perspective, those guys are invaluable people for us.”

With less than $15 million available at the moment in salary cap space, and several roster spots still left to fill, simple math says it’ll be a challenge for the Sharks to keep Pavelski, their captain the last four years, without shedding more salary through another trade.

They still have to sign restricted free agents Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Dylan Gambrell. Even if Thornton signs a cheap $1-2 million, one-year deal, and Patrick Marleau comes back to San Jose under a similar contract, that may not be enough to pay Pavelski fair market value. He made $6 million each of the last five seasons, and could receive offers from other teams that carry longer term and a higher average annual value, despite the fact he’ll turn 35 on July 11. Pavelski’s been free to speak with other teams since Sunday.

“The journey is a two-way street. We’ve always understood what the process is,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said last week. “We’ve been in constant contact with all agents and all players. (The interview period) is just another phase of it. We’ve always wanted to make this a place that players what to play, but under a cap system, there’s always decisions that every team has to make.”

Coming off a season in which they set a team record for goals scored, the Sharks have the personnel to replace Pavelski’s production, particularly if Erik Karlsson can stay healthy.

A lot of those same players could help fill the leadership void, with Couture a natural choice to take over as the Sharks’ next captain and others like Thornton, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic capable of serving as alternates.

But without Pavelski, the Sharks would have one less player who combines those qualities. For years, he’s helped set the tone for younger players just entering the NHL, leading by example with his work ethic and willingness to play hurt, including a journey through the playoffs that left him, in the words of DeBoer, looking like “a car accident victim.”

SAN JOSE, CA – May 4: San Jose Sharks’ Joe Pavelski (8) waves to the crowd during a time-out during the Sharks game against the Colorado Avalanche in the third period of Game 5 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Arguably the most memorable moments of the Sharks’ playoff run involved Pavelski. His teammates rallied after his scary injury in Game 7 of the series against the Vegas Golden Knights, and the SAP Center crowd erupted in Game 5 of the second round series against the Colorado Avalanche when Pavelski appeared from underneath the stands to fire up the faithful.

When he did return from a head injury in Game 7 of the second round, he scored in the first period and later added an assist, as the Sharks went on to beat the Avalanche that night and advance to the Western Conference final.

Turns out that was the second-to-last playoff goal that Pavelski would score in the Sharks’ run. He finished the postseason with four goals and five assists in 13 games.

But his value this spring, just like it was in past years, was about more than just the numbers. It’s just tougher to measure the intangibles he’s brought to the Sharks over the last 13 seasons.

But if he signs with another team July 1 and the Sharks start the 2019-20 season without a No. 8 in the lineup, those intangibles will suddenly become a lot easier to define.