Editor’s Note: The Sharks are the only team in the Pacific Division -- other than the nascent Vegas Golden Knights -- who have not raised the jersey of a former player to the rafters. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the cases of the five likeliest candidates to have the Sharks’ first retired number. We continue with former captain Joe Pavelski.
Sharks fans’ most recent memory of Joe Pavelski might be him signing a three-year deal with the Dallas Stars in free agency this summer, but it surely won’t be their lasting one.
After scoring a goal in his San Jose debut on Nov. 22, 2006, Pavelski became a fixture in the lineup for three different head coaches over the next decade-plus. From his first game in teal until his last, no Shark played in more games (963) or scored more goals (355). He developed a reputation as a clutch player, scoring more game-winning goals (12) in the Stanley Cup playoffs than any of his teammates during that time.
Pavelski captained the Sharks for his final four seasons in teal, making the NHL All-Star Game three times and book-ending his tenure with appearances in the Stanley Cup Final and Western Conference final, respectively. In a star-studded locker room, San Jose followed him as its leader up to the end of the fourth-longest tenure in franchise history.
Let’s examine the case for, and against, retiring Pavelski’s No. 8 jersey first.
The case for
Pavelski was not the Sharks’ first homegrown star, but his time in San Jose was no less successful than his predecessors. He ranks no lower than second among drafted players in just about every major offensive category, and Pavelski has accrued more 20-goal seasons (10) in teal than anybody not named Patrick Marleau.
His emergence into a reliable contributor -- and later a star -- also coincided with the most successful era in Sharks history. San Jose missed the playoffs just once and advanced to the conference final four times during Pavelski’s 13 years with the team. The Sharks made it to at least the second round eight times, and had only gotten so far six times in the pre-Pavelski era.
Jersey retirements aren’t all about logic, of course, so the emotional aspect warrants consideration. Pavelski’s scary head injury in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoff first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights stunned the SAP Center crowd into silence, while his towel-waving appearance during Game 5 against the Colorado Avalanche in the next round prompted one of their loudest cheers.
Pavelski’s goal in his first game back -- a Game 7, no less -- did the same, ultimately capping off his Sharks career with a signature moment. His journey from overlooked seventh-round pick into elite goal-scorer is the stuff jersey retirements are made of.
The case against
Time provides the strongest argument opposing retiring Pavelski’s number first. He is under contract with the Stars until 2022, and by that point the Sharks will have played 30 seasons. Pavelski's final year under contract marks the Sharks' 30th, and if San Jose chooses to retire its first number during that season, it is difficult to envision an active player getting his jersey retired to commemorate the milestone.
Plus, Joe Thornton entered his 40s last month and Marleau will enter his in the next. We wouldn’t put it past either player prolonging their careers, but both almost certainly will retire before Pavelski. If the Sharks haven’t retired a number by the time one -- or both -- hangs up their skates, it stands to reason that one -- or both -- of their numbers will be the first to hang in SAP Center’s rafters.
Marleau spent nearly two decades in teal, while trading for Thornton marked a true transition point for the franchise. Both players have a case for a more transformational legacy than Pavelski, and both players rank ahead of him on the Sharks’ all-time games-played and points lists.
He shouldn’t be far behind his former teammates in getting his number retired, but Pavelski will be behind them nonetheless.
Pavelski’s case for an eventual jersey retirement is just about ironclad. His case for being the first Sharks player honored with one is less so, but it still is stronger than you might initially realize.
The Sharks will miss him next season when they take the ice without him on the roster for the first time since 2006, and his departure really marks the end of an era in San Jose. His now-former teammates’ love and admiration of him was clear during their Game 7 comeback against Vegas, and the fans’ feelings will be when Dallas comes to SAP Center next season on Jan. 11, 2020.
His jersey might not officially be retired for a while, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else wearing No. 8 in the meantime.