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.
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.