Sharks

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Pavelski could meet with Stars, Lightning this week

pavelskiusatsi.jpg
USATSI

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Pavelski could meet with Stars, Lightning this week

The Sharks' efforts to keep all of their free agents got harder this weekend, when the NHL set next season's salary cap at $81.5 million. That gives San Jose just under $15 million in salary-cap space with Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier, among others, set to hit unrestricted or restricted free agency. 

At least in part because of that pending cap crunch, Pavelski told The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun that he will meet with "a few teams" this week. He also told LeBrun that he has not ruled out coming back to the Sharks, however.

“Yeah, we’ll see how that goes,’’ Pavelski said. “Maybe I come back. I don’t know.’’

League sources suggested to LeBrun that Pavelski "may visit" the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars later this week. A league source told The Athletic's Craig Morgan that the Arizona Coyotes already have met with Dan Plante, Pavelski's agent. LeBrun wrote that the Buffalo Sabres also could have called Pavelski, but they "don't have a site visit scheduled."

The President's Trophy-winning Lightning faces similarly tough cap decisions as the Sharks, with restricted free agent Brayden Point still unsigned. But the Stars ($9.957 million in cap space), Coyotes ($11.516 million after placing Marian Hossa on long-term injured reserve) and Sabres ($18.915 million) have the bulk of their roster signed and enough space to sign Pavelski, and all three ranked in the bottom third of the league in goals scored.

[RELATED: Sharks reportedly won't be thrilled with the 2019-20 salary cap]

Pavelski can help in that regard. He scored 38 goals last season, tied for the second most of his career, and has scored more than all but five players over the last five seasons. But Pavelski will turn 35 next month, and LeBrun wrote that the 13-year veteran "probably wants" a three-year deal, and LeBrun's "sense" is the Sharks don't want to sign Pavelski to a contract longer than two years.

Free agency officially begins July 1 at 9 a.m. PT (noon ET), and that is the soonest Pavelski could sign with another team. He could re-sign with the Sharks at any point beforehand, but Pavelski is at least exploring putting on a different sweater next season.

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

burnssimekkarlssonusatsi.jpg
USATSI

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

It's a darn good thing the Sharks have a bevy of talent coming up the pipeline -- especially on defense.

With news coming out of training camp Friday that Radim Simek is questionable to be ready for game-action when the season opens on Oct. 2, the focus shifts not just to when he might finally rejoin the team, but to who will most likely fill in that void on San Jose's blue line.

With four preseason games remaining, San Jose has a couple of options when it comes to filling in that roster spot.

Being that Simek is a left-handed shooter, the best bets to pencil into the roster from San Jose's group of young talent are Jacob Middleton and Mario Ferraro. Middleton has a strong chance of being the go-to guy, having been recalled from the Barracuda on a few occasions last season to fill in when the injury bug bit the Sharks' blue line especially hard.

Fans might remember Middleton's surprise NHL debut back in January when he went from prepping for a road trip with the Barracuda one night to practicing alongside Brent Burns the following morning. At that time, left-handed defensemen Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were both out of the lineup.

Even with Middleton's prior experience at the NHL level, Ferraro will likely still be a consideration to make the opening night roster. The 21-year-old has been impressing the organization since he participated in rookie development camp back in July and has continued that trend through training camp. Ferraro also has recently been paired up in camp with Dalton Prout -- who the Sharks will likely keep in mind to fill in should one of their right-handed defensemen be sidelined.

Having a few different players who can file into the lineup also gives DeBoer more options as far as mixing and matching his d-pairs. Middleton filled right into Simek's spot alongside Burns last year, and should the pairing of Brenden Dillon and Erik Karlsson stay intact, the Middleton-Burns pairing could be reunited with Vlasic being paired up with Tim Heed. If both Ferraro and Prout demonstrate they're a reliable pair to start, the duo might get the nod which would keep Vlasic and Burns skating together as they have been through the start of the preseason.

Of course, those are just guesses as to how DeBoer's lineup will shake up until Simek comes back healthy.

Naturally, the best-case scenario is that Simek gets into the lineup sooner rather than later. San Jose did go 29-9-3 with a healthy Simek in the lineup last season, after all. Plus, Simek's ticket into a regular roster spot was his uncanny chemistry with Burns.

[RELATED: Why Sharks expect Meier to take step forward]

That being said, the Sharks don't want to rush the Czech defenseman back into the lineup too quickly. Sure, Simek has been training for some time now, following surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Teammate Tomas Hertl told the press on the first day of camp that he talked to Simek over the summer and that the blueliner has been "working his ass off" to get back into playing shape. Nevertheless, the Sharks don't want to bring Simek back to quickly and risk him re-injuring himself.

At least the Sharks have good options for filling out their blue line until he returns.

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Erik Karlsson is arguably the best player on the Sharks. According to NHL Network, San Jose's defenseman is the 24th-best player in the league.

In counting down the best players in the current NHL, the league's network placed Karlsson in between 25th-ranked David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, and 23rd-rank Mark Giordano, the Flames' reigning Norris Trophy winner.

"We know that he can put the puck just about anywhere, he can skate himself out of trouble, he can pass himself out of trouble, he can do just about anything," NHL Network's Brian Lawton said of Karlsson. "For a defenseman in today's game that played on one leg basically last year … he did have 16 points in 19 playoff games and it wasn't quite enough, but it was pretty darn heroic if you ask me."

Karlsson totaled 45 points in 53 regular-season games with the Sharks after arriving in San Jose at the start of training camp last year. The Sharks had their best stretch of the season once he found his groove in early December, and if not for a troublesome groin injury, there's no telling how far San Jose could have gone.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner still managed to appear in the All-Star Game, and signed a lucrative eight-year extension with San Jose at the start of free agency. He tallied at least 62 points in each of the previous five seasons, and his 563 points since making his NHL debut are the most among all NHL defenseman, ahead of fellow Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (532).

[RELATED: Listen to Jumbo Joe mic'd up at a recent Sharks practice]

Karlsson will be an alternate captain in his second season with the franchise, and one would naturally expect him to benefit from having played a year in the system. He ranked sixth among NHL defensemen in points per game (0.85) last year, and with the departures San Jose suffered in free agency, it wouldn't be surprising to see that rate increase in the season ahead, particularly considering Karlsson says he feels "back to normal" after offseason surgery to address the injury that hampered him a year ago.

Assuming Karlsson stays healthy this coming season, you can expect him to be ranked even higher a year from now.