Joe Pavelski endured plenty of highs and lows during his first seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks.
Most notably, he saw his year end short of the Stanley Cup final every time. Not living up to expectations so often earned the Sharks a dismal reputation for losing in the playoffs.
“Every year we’ve come in, you’ve had that feeling that we can get the job done,” Pavelski said. “We haven’t turned that corner quite yet.”
Yet was the word that resonated for Pavelski, who on Tuesday signed a five-year, US$30-million extension that keeps him with the Sharks through the 2018-19 season. It was a deal the 29-year-old centre signed not only for long-term security but also because he believes this group can win a championship.
“To be a part of the core, to play those minutes, to be looked at like that, it’s one of the big reasons why I believe this team can win,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “It’s because we’ve been there, we’ve learned, we’ve grown up as a group in a lot of ways. To keep trying and be a part of it, it’s just pretty special.”
San Jose general manager Doug Wilson pointed to Pavelski and 24-year-old centre Logan Couture as key pieces of the core moving forward. Couture earlier this off-season signed an identical extension to the one Pavelski got.
In the past handful of years, players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle have most embodied the Sharks, for better or worse. Wilson spoke to those players’ agents about extensions, but at 34, 33 and 37 years old, Thornton, Marleau and Boyle have “gone through that phase” of getting locked up to long-term, lucrative contracts.
The priority was ensuring Pavelski and Couture would be around for the foreseeable future.
“We’re the sum of all our parts,” Wilson said. “When you start looking at players like Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns, Antti Niemi, just to name a few, and the beauty of our team when everybody brings something to the table and plays the way our coaching staff wants us to play we can play with anybody.”
Pavelski had already established himself in the NHL four years ago when he signed a $16-million contract. Since then, he has grown into an important contributor, having put up a total of 150 goals and 186 assists in 479 games, all with the Sharks.
“We’ve been in a position where I’ve gotten a lot of ice time, played in a lot of situations, and I’ve always kind of felt that feeling of being important as everybody is,” he said. “I’ve had a large role on the team, and it’s always exciting when a team, a franchise, puts that responsibility on you a little bit.”
Knowing he’s around six more years puts even more responsibility on Pavelski. There’s no guarantee Thornton, Marleau and Boyle will be around beyond next season, but Pavelski’s deal has a limited no-trade clause and even if there are other changes, he should be in San Jose for some time.
“Your role changes maybe a little bit as you’ve gotten older and I’ve accepted, I guess, a little bit more of a role as each year’s went on,” Pavelski said. “But you have to maintain a level that has got to this and then you have to produce even more. Obviously I’m coming into what I believe is my prime, and for the next however many years, you want to be at that highest level and do a lot of the same things that have gotten you to this point.”
Pavelski recorded at least 50 points in each of his past four full NHL seasons and had 31 in 48 games last year. He put up 12 points in 11 playoff games as the Sharks came one victory away from facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference final.
“We use him on the point on the power play, we use him on the first line, we use him on key faceoffs, blocking shots,” Wilson said. “He won a national championship in college for a reason. He’s a winner. He’s a great role model for many of our other players that are home-grown.
“The way he plays the game, it’s not about stats, even though his stats are very impressive; it’s about (what) you can do to make a difference to win a game. That’s the way he’s wired, the way we want to play. I think he’s only going to get better, but he’s been pretty good already.”
Pavelski could also be part of another U.S. Olympic team after winning a silver medal in Vancouver in 2014. Wilson expects Pavelski to be a big part of the U.S. effort in Sochi, and, obviously a key piece of Sharks playoff teams in the short- and long-term future.
“The plan is to develop, to work hard each summer, to kind of put yourself in a position to keep getting better and keep earning more ice time and producing and being a part,” Pavelski said. “Being committed for another six years, the commitment level on my part has to repay them for putting the trust in me now.”