SAN JOSE — They watched two years ago as one career Shark, Patrick Marleau, received a more lucrative contract offer in free agency and left the organization for an opportunity to join what he felt was another Stanley Cup contending team.
Now Sharks fans are preparing to see it happen once again with another beloved member of the franchise — captain Joe Pavelski.
Numerous reports, including one from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, suggest Pavelski will sign a multi-year contract with the Dallas Stars on Monday, the first day unrestricted free agents can officially join other teams, ending a 13-year era in Pacific Teal for the Plover, Wis. native.
Pavelski’s departure would sting, no question. But fans are also acutely aware that change is part of the professional sports landscape.
“I’ll have to get a new jersey,” said San Jose native Jennifer New, 31, one of several fans at Friday’s prospects scrimmage at SAP Center who was wearing a No. 8 Pavelski sweater. “Probably a (Logan) Couture or (Tomas) Hertl, maybe (Timo) Meier. He’s looking pretty good. But he hasn’t signed yet, either, so we’ll have to wait and see.
“As far as not being a Sharks fan, I can’t do that. I was born and raised here. It’s a business, (Pavelski’s) getting a little bit older and so he deserves to get some good money after everything that he’s done.”
Pavelski, 34, defied the odds as San Jose’s seventh-round draft pick in 2003 to become a three-time NHL All-Star and a two-time Olympian with Team USA. He would leave the Sharks second on the team’s all-time list in goals (355) and plus/minus (108) and third in regular season games played (963), assists (406) and points (761).
Pavelski scored 33 goals in his first 128 NHL games over two seasons, then began a streak of nine straight years with 20 goals or more in 82-game regular seasons, including a career-high of 41 in 2013-14, and 38 this past year.
Along the way he became a Sharks icon. He was first nicknamed “Little Joe” for his work alongside “Jumbo” Joe Thornton early in his NHL career, and then called captain of the team for the last four seasons.
“As long as the Sharks are here in the Bay Area in San Jose, I’m going to be a Sharks fan,” said Mike Berkoff, 34, of Burlingame. “But yes, it’s disappointing and depressing to see players come and go.”
One doesn’t have to look too far back to recognize the love Sharks fans have for Pavelski.
It was on full display in the Sharks’ playoff run this spring.
On April 23 in Game 7 of the Sharks’ first round playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights, SAP Center fell silent at the 9:13 mark of the third period. At that moment, Pavelski was knocked off balance right after a faceoff and the back of his head collided with the ice. The level of concern around the arena was palpable, as Pavelski was helped off the ice by teammates Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Evander Kane.
“I am nervous if he’s going to stay or not,” Julianne Colella, 33, of San Jose. “I’m hoping that he stays. Just an all around great player, very inspirational, as you can tell when he got hurt and everybody came around him. I’d miss him very much if he leaves. It’d be very sad.”
With Pavelski in mind, the Sharks scored four times on the ensuing five-minute power play, rallying from a three-goal deficit to take a one-goal lead. The Sharks won the game 5-4 in overtime on a goal by Barclay Goodrow.
“It was the best game, I think, in Sharks history to be a part of,” New said. “Being here was electric. It was hard to see him go down, but it was amazing to see the team rally around him and win for Pav.”
On May 4, just as the Sharks were about to start a power play in the third period of Game 5 against the Colorado Avalanche, a still-injured Pavelski, dressed in a three-piece suit, came out from underneath the stands at one end of SAP Center. With a huge smile on his face, Pavelski began to wave a towel over his head, firing up the sold-out crowd and raising the roof off the 26-year-old barn to set up the final few minutes of regulation time.
“No one knew he was going to do that,” Couture said after the game. “That was as loud as this building gets.”
Just four days later in Game 7 against the Avalanche, Pavelski was back in uniform, getting a huge ovation first when he stepped onto the ice for pregame warmups and once again when he was announced as a starter. Less than six minutes into the game, Pavelski scored and the Tank exploded. Pavelski finished added an assist on a Tomas Hertl goal, helping give the Sharks a 3-2 triumph over the Avalanche for a spot in the Western Conference final against the St. Louis Blues.
Those won’t be the last times Pavelski will send the home crowd into a frenzy. But by all indications, he’ll be doing it in a Stars’ Victory Green uniform, not the Sharks’ Pacific Teal.
“I’d like for him to stay,” said Ben Vidovich, 28, of Sunnyvale, “but at the same time, if he wants to go in a different direction, nothing but gratitude for what he’s done here.”
“It’s kind of like when Marleau left,” Colella said. “You’d be sad, but we’re always going to be happy for them wherever they go.”