Like Marleau was, Pavelski is irreplaceable — the Sharks would be wise to remember that with free agency looming

San Jose vet is headed for the open market at the end of the 2019 season

Gabriel John Ostler
January 17, 2019 - 10:14 am

“We played a bit of euchre and then poker once. He took us for all our money. We played Old Maid (at first) because I only knew simple card games.”

-Auston Matthews

Auston Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs wunderkind, is referring to Patrick Marleau, Sharks legend and statistical leader in every conceivable category, who currently plies his trade north of the border with the Eastern Conference’s fourth-place-team.

Marleau was snagged in the 2017 offseason after the expiration of his deal with the Sharks, on a three-year contract worth $6.25 million annually. The signing has been a resounding success for the Leafs, as last year in his age-38 season Marleau didn’t miss a single game and surpassed his point total from his final campaign with the Sharks. He continues to produce with consistency, all while averaging nearly 17 minutes of ice time per contest.

Marleau’s value, though, lies in far more than on-ice production. The opening quote, from a larger story about how the veteran has integrated into a team largely comprised of burgeoning superstars assembled from years of high-drafting seasons, speaks volumes as to the intangibles that someone like Marleau brings to an organization.

A person like that is, quite frankly, irreplaceable.

The Sharks found that out the hard way when they let Marleau walk to Toronto.

General manager Doug Wilson was unwilling to match the Leafs’ admittedly steep valuation, especially when he knew that members of his burgeoning core like Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl were in line for pay rises sooner rather than later.

This is now Year 2 A.P. (After Patty) and the Sharks have…adjusted.

As generally weird as it is to see Marleau in another sweater, Wilson has done an admirable job managing the cap and finding strong play from shrewd European professional league signings, as well as from your average blockbuster trade or two. But there are times when Marleau’s absence is felt.

And the same could potentially end up being said about captain Joe Pavelski, whose $6 million contract runs out this coming summer.

The two have much in common while at once being entirely different. Both have amassed a sizeable tenure with the team, and they are the only two Sharks to surpass 300 goals entirely in teal.

Both have worn the “C” on their jerseys. Marleau, though, came into the league with every expectation in the world, having been selected second overall, while Pavelski came in with none, being picked all the way down at slot No. 205. Marleau stands a relatively lithe 6-foot-2 and absolutely races up and down the ice, even to this day; Pavelski comes in under six feet and is nobody’s idea of a speedster.

But despite their disparate play styles, both are noted experts on putting the puck in the net, and that’s partially why Pavelski is a point of contention at this moment.

Pavelski has been burning up the twine this season. Through 49 games, he sits No. 12 in the league with 26 tallies. Not only does that put him seven goals above his next teammate (Tomas Hertl), it has him on pace for 43 in a full 82, which would be a lifetime best.

Undersized, somewhat slow 34-year-olds aren’t supposed to be rocketing past their previous season-highs, but Pavelski is proving night in and night out that he’s an exception to the rule.

In a league, like most American professional sports leagues, that’s getting markedly bigger, faster, and stronger, Pavelski has adapted his game to carve out an ironclad niche amidst all the chaos.

His hand-eye coordination is unparalleled, allowing him to redirect pucks with incredible ease in front of the net, and his shooting accuracy seems to be getting more pinpoint by the day. Look at him pick the corner against Ottawa this past Saturday night, in the midst of a sluggish stretch for the Sharks offense. This goal would jumpstart the team to a much-needed 4-1 victory.

The problem for San Jose is that they’re encroaching on the point of inflection faced by every contending team in a capped sport.

Already bumping up against the salary limit, they’re faced with the prospect of extending star acquisition Erik Karlsson, who’s going to command far more than his current $6 million; deciding how to go about retaining RFA Timo Meier, who has delighted Sharks fans with a breakout season and undoubtedly opened the eyes of GMs across the league with the dough to sign the talented young winger to an offer sheet; and figuring out what the heck Joe Thornton is monetarily worth at this point in his career.

Much like it was with Marleau, the temptation is strong to let Pavelski test the open market and shrug sadly when another contender in need of goalscoring acumen and veteran leadership comes calling with a $6.75+ million offer. (Evander Kane garnered a $7 million deal that runs through 2025 — the idea that Pavelski would take some significant amount less than that despite his advanced age is patently ridiculous.)

There are many justifications for letting Pavelski walk: the old contract year motivation standby, the fact that this production doesn’t logically seem replicable, the idea that of the major re-signings important to the team this offseason, Pavelski doesn’t seem like the No. 1 priority.

These are all abject failures of excuses when faced with the blunt reality of losing yet another franchise icon and team captain still putting up numbers equal to the best in the league at his position. It’s true; the accounting is going to have to get creative. The Sharks aren’t carrying any bad contracts on their books — it’s just the unfortunate reality that good players cost good money.

Joe Pavelski is a good player who’s earned an extension with the team to which he’s devoted his career. At the start of the season, when Sharks were scuffling far more than they should due in part to the difficulty of integrating Karlsson into the lineup, it was Pavelski who was often the only source of offense, keeping the Sharks afloat long enough to adapt and eventually thrive. In 49 games this year, Pavelski’s longest stretch without a goal is just four games.

That level of consistency is breathtaking. And much like that of Marleau, it cannot be replaced.

Auston Matthews went on to say of Marleau:

“He’s an unbelievable guy and a(n unbelievable) player with the career he’s had. To be in this locker room and get to know him, it’s been awesome.”

There’s a reason why a smart, well-run, contending team like Toronto found it in their ledger to pay Marleau $6.25 million per annum. Production is an undeniable factor. Chemistry and leadership are even more so.

It’s hard to say that a team in the thick of contention for the Stanley Cup has made any true “mistakes” when it comes to roster construction. Wilson has, again, done an exceptional job in assembling this iteration of the Sharks. But it remains imperative that when it comes time to sit down at the negotiating table with Joe Pavelski, Wilson remembers two offseasons ago and makes sure Pavelski leaves with an extension.

Otherwise, some other lucky squad is going to end up with a phenomenal player and locker room presence, and San Jose will be left with nothing but fond memories and permanent twinges of regret.

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