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NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Pavelski meets with Stars before free agency

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NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Pavelski meets with Stars before free agency

Joe Pavelski reportedly is taking advantage of the NHL's free-agent meeting period.

The Sharks captain, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, met with the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, according to The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun.

Pavelski, 38, scored 38 goals with San Jose last season. That total would have led Dallas, too, which lacked scoring up front behind its top trio of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn. Those three were the only Stars to score at least 20 goals, and 18 other teams exceeded that total.

The Stars have just under $10.96 million in salary-cap space, according to Cap Friendly, and that would be enough to bring in Pavelski. The Sharks have more space ($14.8 million), but San Jose also has just seven forwards under contract who finished the season in the NHL.

Dallas was my one win away from eliminating the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in the second round, but it blew a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Given the aforementioned scoring depth, or lack thereof, Pavelski would fill a hole on the Stars' roster.

Such a move would weaken the Sharks and strengthen a possible rival, as the Stars then would have a case to enter the Western Conference's elite. It wouldn't necessarily result in a revenge playoff series for Pavelski, as San Jose and Dallas couldn't face off until the Western Conference final -- unless one of the teams finished in the other's divisional playoff bracket as a wild card.

Pavelski reportedly isn't limiting his options to the Western Conference, however. He will meet with the Tampa Bay Lightning next, according to LeBrun and The Athletic's Kevin Kurz.

The Lightning ran away with the President's Trophy in a 128-point season but was swept out of the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Pavelski's presence would provide Tampa Bay a proven playoff performer, although the Lightning faces a tighter salary-cap crunch than the Sharks.

[RELATED: Can cap-strapped Sharks keep Nyquist?]

Tampa Bay has $10.6 million in cap space after dealing J.T. Miller and will have more when it officially places Ryan Callahan on long-term injured reserve, but the Lightning still needs to lock up restricted free agent Brayden Point this summer and has Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy set to become an RFA next summer. It's difficult to see where Pavelski would fit into that equation, but he unquestionably would make the NHL's rich even richer.

Pavelski did not shut the door on returning to the Sharks in an interview earlier this week. These reports make it clear he hasn't shut the door on leaving, either.

Logan Couture believes Sharks' motivation should be sky-high in long offseason

Logan Couture believes Sharks' motivation should be sky-high in long offseason

The Sharks will miss the NHL playoffs for the first time in five seasons, and just the second time since the 2002-03 campaign.

They struggled so much and things got so bad they didn’t even qualify for a modified 24-team playoff format designed to wrap the season after the coronavirus pandemic forced the NHL to hit pause in mid-March.

Disqualification is an odd feeling for most veteran Sharks, especially after a season that started with promise ended in disaster.

San Jose's path to redemption won’t start for months. It may be well into the winter before next season ramps up, meaning the Sharks have plenty of time on their hands to ponder what went wrong and how to make it right.

They want to find old form at the next available opportunity. Logan Couture believes that should push them through a long and uncertain offseason.

“As a group, we know that every single person needs to be better next year,” the Sharks captain said Thursday on a video conference with Sharks reporters. “I think, with this long break, it adds time for guys to get prepared. Motivation should be at an all-time high for everyone because you want to come back and prove it was just a fluke. We believe that we’re a good team. We have all the pieces in the room to be successful. We just need to go out and do it.”

That’s not outside the realm of possibility, though there are as many -- or more -- question marks surrounding the team than in recent memory.

Those will be answered by management as the Sharks try and build the depth required to weather a long season and, if all goes right, playoff intensity.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl promises to be better than before injury]

The current issue is to keep players focused and training on their own so they’re ready to return when the time comes.

“Players are creatures of habit,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “The cycles of training and preparing of training and getting ready. This will be the longest time off our team and players have ever had.

"And you’ve got to use that time very well. You don’t want players under-training, or over-training. We’ve talked with our strength and medical people, trying to figure out the best way to get the programs in place so when they come into camp, they’re ready to go.”

Sharks' Tomas Hertl vows to be 'better than before' after knee injury

Sharks' Tomas Hertl vows to be 'better than before' after knee injury

Tomas Hertl stood before the media just a few weeks after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee and vowed to be ready by Sharks training camp. That seemed like a bold proclamation at the time, a promise his rehab should let him live up to.

The All-Star center provided a progress report on his physical condition during a Thursday video conference with the media, saying he’ll be ready for the 2020-21 campaign even if it starts as scheduled in October.

Dropping the puck on time seems highly unlikely after the NHL hit pause on the 2019-20 season due to the coronavirus pandemic and announced plans to pick it back up with a modified, 24-team playoff format. That could push next season further into the winter, allowing Hertl to downshift his rehab some and focus on getting strong over getting back on the ice.

“I can do almost anything,” Hertl said. “I am able to run, not full speed, but I can do almost everything I was doing before. I was actually surprised about that after not even four months. If we knew the season was starting in October, I would probably start skating in a few weeks. If there’s extra time it might help me, but I think I would be ready for the season even if it starts when it always does. I should be 100 percent ready for next season whenever it happens.”

[RELATED: Sharks' path back to Stanley Cup contention filled with major hurdles]

Well in line to keep his initial promise, Hertl went a step further Thursday by saying he’s not just looking to regain previous form. He wants to improve upon it.

That would be good news for the Sharks and would continue the 26-year old’s steady ascent as a top-shelf player. He has improved considerably in recent seasons while beginning to maximize great talent, becoming a vital component of the Sharks attack.

Hertl considers this latest knee injury as a speedbump, not a permanent roadblock. He has dealt with knee issues before and always comes back strong. This experience, he says, should be no different.

[RELATED: What you need to know as Sharks long season ends]

“I feel like I have proved the past couple years that I can be one of the top players, one of the top centers on the team,” Hertl said. “I want to keep working on that. I have had some setbacks, but I’m not scared about it. I always come back. The experience has made me stronger. I am taking [this rehab] like another challenge.

“I was named an All-Star and it was a great experience for me, and it makes me want to go back. I want to be there for my team, and that’s why I have been working every day for four months even with the season so far away. My next goal is getting back and being better than before. I know I can do it. I have to give it everything I can to get back.”