Sharks

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

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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.

Brenden Dillon breaks down when asked about potential Sharks trade

Brenden Dillon breaks down when asked about potential Sharks trade

Brenden Dillon might have played last home game with the Sharks on Monday, and that clearly was weighing on him afterward.

Dillon can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and the defenseman has been linked with playoff contenders ahead of the NHL trade deadline. The Sharks, barring a near-miraculous push, almost certainly will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs, leading to speculation that they'll trade Dillon before the Feb. 24 deadline. 

The possibility becomes more real as the deadline nears, but that doesn't mean Dillon is having an easier time processing it. 

"I don't know. Kind of [have to] see what happens. ... I like being here," Dillon said, his voice cracking as he teared up. "I try to play hard every night. It's out of my control."

The Sharks acquired Dillon in a November 2014 trade, and he has called San Jose home ever since. Dillon emerged as a fixture on the Sharks' blue line, playing in at least 76 regular-season games -- and all 60 of their playoff games -- from 2015 through 2019. The 29-year-old has played in all 59 games for the Sharks this season, too, and San Jose has become his home.

[RELATED: Sharks' Couture will have test to determine practice return]

Trading pending unrestricted free agents is par for the course for teams on the outside looking in at the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Dillon's emotions Monday starkly highlighted the very real costs of making trades. Players are asked to uproot their lives at the drop of a hat, leaving behind friends, colleagues and often family. 

Yes, trades are a part of the business. The real and raw reactions are, too. 

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 matinee loss to Panthers

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 matinee loss to Panthers

The Sharks couldn't bring their winning ways back from the road to San Jose, losing 5-3 to the Florida Panthers in a Presidents' Day matinee. 

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was on the case, stopping 29 of 32 Sharks shots. San Jose cut Florida's lead to a goal two different times in the third period, but the Ice Cats pulled away and doubled their lead in both instances. 

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' loss in their final home game before the trade deadline. 

Too little, too late

The Sharks entered the third period trailing by a goal. They allowed a Panthers goal before getting a single shot on net in the final frame, and Bobrovsky didn't have to make his first save until there was 6:37 remaining in regulation and Florida had a two-goal lead. 

Kevin Labanc -- on the power play -- and Timo Meier -- with goaltender Aaron Dell pulled -- got the Sharks within one, but San Jose never generated much of a third-period push at full strength. Florida ultimately held a 10-5 advantage in 5-on-5 shots and a 6-4 edge in 5-on-5 scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

The Sharks applied pressure after Meier's goal, but the push needed to come much sooner. The Panthers instead set the tone from the start of the third period onward, and Florida took two points as a result. 

True chemistry

Dylan Gambrell and Alexander True appear to be developing some solid chemistry. The pair were on the ice for a 5-on-5 Sharks goal for the third straight game, when True's forechecking allowed linemate Antti Suomela to set up Gambrell's second goal in as many games. 

Suomela left in the second period with an injury and didn't return, but Gambrell and True were strong together. The duo posted a 60 percent corsi-for percentage in 5:34 of 5-on-5 time, according to Natural Stat Trick, out-chancing the Panthers 4-2 during that time. 

True has played in just six NHL games, but he and Gambrell have brought the best out of one another in their short time together. It's worth keeping the pair together in the bottom-six once Evander Kane returns from his suspension. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Couture will have test to determine practice return]

End of an era? 

Monday was the Sharks' last home game before the trade deadline, and they could look much different when they next play in San Jose on Feb. 27. Pending free agents Brenden Dillon and Melker Karlsson could get shipped to Stanley Cup contenders in need of depth, but the real question is whether or not the Sharks will trade franchise legends Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. 

Both are 40 and nearing the end of their careers. Could the Sharks give them the Ray Bourque treatment, and trade them to a team with Cup aspirations? The Sharks want to be back in the mix in 2021, but this spring might represent the last real chance for the No. 1 and No. 2 selections in the 1997 NHL Draft to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time in their careers. 

Thornton, for his part, told reporters Sunday that he didn't think Monday would be his last game as a Shark at SAP Center. The call should be Thornton and Marleau's alone, given all they've done for the franchise, and we'll know a week from Monday if they'll finish out the season -- and potentially their careers -- in San Jose.