SAN JOSE, Calif. — For San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, the start of free agency was a day of mixed emotions.
The joy of locking up forward Timo Meier with a four-year, $24 million contract Monday was tempered by the loss of Joe Pavelski to Dallas because the Sharks didn’t have the salary cap room to keep their captain after handing out a $92 million contract to Erik Karlsson last month.
”It’s emotional,” Wilson said. ”You have a heart, you have a head, and you understand these decisions have to be made and they get made. You have mixed emotions. Very excited for Timo, very excited for the opportunities that are coming for the rest of the team. But you love what Joe Pavelski and Sarah brought to this organization for so many years. It’s a reality of this business and this system. That part doesn’t make it any easier.”
Pavelski developed from a unheralded seventh-round pick in 2003 to one of the greatest players in Sharks history, ranking second in team history in goals (355), third in points (761) and fourth in games played (963).
Pavelski, who turns 35 this month, also was a leader as captain the past four seasons and favorite of both the fans and his teammates. Never was that more evident than this past postseason when he suffered a bloody concussion following a cross check in Game 7 of the first round against Vegas.
After he was helped off the ice, his teammates rallied for their fallen leader by scoring four goals on the ensuing major power play to advance to the second round. Pavelski got a thunderous ovation during Game 5 the following round when he came out waving a towel during a break in the third period and then returned to the ice for Game 7 when he scored the first goal.
The Sharks now must replace Pavelski’s scoring (38 goals last season) as well as his leadership.
”When you have a player like that leaving, it’s a chance for young players to step up in a bigger role,” Meier said. ”That’s my mindset, to come into the next season and hopefully get a spot on the first power play, get some more playing time. I want to take full advantage of that opportunity.
Meier, who turns 23 in October, is coming off a breakthrough season when he became a fixture as a top six forward in San Jose. He had 30 goals and 36 assists in 78 games, making a major jump from his first full season when he had 36 points in 81 games.
Making Meier even more valuable was the fact that he did almost all of his damage at even strength, tying for second on the team with 24 goals and ranking second with 55 points in those situations. Meier added five goals and 10 assists in the playoffs.
”When you see players like that play a man’s game and have a great scoring touch, I don’t think you can put a ceiling on where he can get to,” Wilson said. ”The opportunities that will be coming to both him and Tomas Hertl will be very exciting for this franchise.”
The Sharks also re-signed defenseman Tim Heed to a one-year deal. The 28-year-old Heed had two goals and 11 assists in 37 games last season and should slot in to replace Justin Braun on San Jose’s third pairing.
San Jose also lost forwards Gustav Nyquist to Columbus and Joonas Donskoi to Colorado in free agency but could still bring back two franchise icons before long.
Wilson said he hopes to have a deal with forward Joe Thornton finalized in ”due time” after Thornton expressed a desire to return for another season at age 40.
Forward Patrick Marleau also could return two years after leaving for Toronto in free agency. Marleau had the final year of his contract bought out by Carolina last month and has expressed a desire to return to the Sharks. Marleau is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals, points and games played.