The first option, Joe Pavelski readily admits, was to stay in San Jose, where he’d been for 13 years, where he’d built a home and friendships and relationships, where he’d come oh-so-close oh-so-many times. But that option, it became clear, was not on the table, with not enough cap space to accommodate everyone.
So, he searched around for a new team, looking for a chance to play meaningful hockey. “There were a few teams that presented itself with good opportunities,” Pavelski told SI. “Dallas was one of them.”
After a season in which Dallas pushed the eventual champs to double overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Stars added Pavelski and Corey Perry in the offseason, grizzled veterans more associated with rival squads who they hope will push their young core to the next level. “We think we’re a team that has a legit shot,” says general manager Jim Nill. “They’re the missing pieces.”
Though there will be an adjustment heading to Dallas, Pavelski looks at the collection of talent and feels pretty good about his decision. There’s Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin up front. A top goalie in Ben Bishop. An exciting young defense. “I’ve always had good players to play with,” says Pavelski. “[The talent] was something that caught my attention.”
And, if anything, Pavelski just adds to that skill level. “It’s not like he’s dropping off,” says Nill. Last season, the 35-year-old Pavelski scored 38 goals, the second-highest total of his career. Along with Benn, the Stars now boast one of the better collection of centers in the league. “Look at the Stanley Cup winners of the last 15 years,” says head coach Jim Montgomery. “They have a great one-two punch. Look at St. Louis. They had Brayden Schenn, then they got Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak. It’s the way you win.”
It was a bit of a lost season for Corey Perry, who missed the first five months of the season while recovering from surgery on his right meniscus and MCL. When he returned with two months left in the year, he struggled, posting just 10 points in 31 games. “It wasn’t easy coming back in February,” Perry says. “Guys have 50 games. You’re playing Game 1. I don’t wish that upon anybody.”
But now, he says, the knee is completely healthy. (He did, however, suffer a small fracture in his foot and will miss two weeks.) And even though not putting on the Ducks uniform feels “weird”, Perry is excited to play a role. “They were one shot away,” he says. “You lose in double OT, that sits with you and fuels you. You can sense it around here already. I’m going to come in here and be another piece of the puzzle
That puzzle is already loaded with intriguing young pieces. Outside the big three of Benn, Seguin and Alexander Radulov (who scored a combined 89 goals last season), the Stars are pretty deep with young talent. Radek Faksa, 25, had 15 goals; Jason Dickinson, 24, had 22 points in 67 games. The 22-year-old Roope Hintz was impressive while playing on the second line. Denis Gurianov, Dallas’s 2015 first-round pick, could be ready for top-six minutes. “People are underestimating that we have some good, young kids,” says Nill.
And that’s not to mention the backend, which might be the most impressive part, and one that certainly attracted Pavelski. “They didn’t give up a lot,” he says. That’s, in large part, due to the Scandinavian trio on the blue line. Finns Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell, along with Swede John Klingberg, are young, mobile and dynamic. “We were relentless defensively,” says Montgomery. “We’re excited about how far they can push and lead us.” Add that to Ben Bishop—who led the league last year in save percentage, and had what Nill calls his “coming out” party in the playoffs—and the Stars should start the season as one of the favorites in the West.
Pavelski is settling into the Dallas area. He picked out a house and got his kids started at school. Perry has been spending time getting to know the city. Yes, these two veterans might look a bit odd in Dallas green. But they should provide valuable production to a team that was close last year.
“I love where we’re at,” says Nill. “But now we have to do it.”