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Free Agent Profile: Joe Pavelski

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Don’t let his age scare you. Pavelski is arguably the best top-six center in the unrestricted free agent class this year.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to NHL free agency, there are two golden rules that most fans hope their team follows: 1) Don’t shell out big money, and 2) Stay away from old(er) players.

Today, let’s talk about an older UFA target who will command big money: Joe Pavelski.

At 34 years old, you would expect Father Time would have caught up to Joe Pavelski by now. But the San Jose Sharks captain has shown no signs of slowing down, scoring at a 70-point pace in all but two seasons in the last seven:

Note: both 2012-13 and 2018-19 amount to 70 points over a full 82 game season.

Pavelski is also a possession monster. According to Hockey-Reference.com, Pavelski’s worst numbers in his career were still a 52.8 CF% and 52.5 FF%, and that was way back in 2009-10 during his third season. His career average is a 54.6 CF% and 55.5 FF%, and while that’s in part due to San Jose being a strong possession team, it’s also true that the Sharks have such good possession numbers because of players like Pavelski.

Whichever team that signs Pavelski will gain a huge boost to their offensive production. He can serve as either a solid top-line center or as one of the best second-line centers in the game. I mean, just look at this heat map!

It’s so beautiful...

Projected to sign somewhere between $7-8 million for three years, Pavelski should be more than worth the money. That should make him one of the top targets for the Dallas Stars this off-season, and per Pierre Lebrun, there may be mutual interest:

Nobody involved would comment on which teams have shown the most interest in Pavelski but other leagues sources suggest he may visit Dallas and Tampa this week.

The Stars would be a nice fit, a team on the rise that had a strong season, and has enough cap space for Pavelski with Jason Spezza gone and pending UFA Mats Zuccarello still unsigned.

Of course, there is still room for concern when it comes to Pavelski. To start with, although he was on pace for 41 goals this year, that was largely due to an unsustainable 20.2% shooting percentage. Secondly, there’s still a chance he hits a steep decline as early as next season given his age. Many fans might point to Patrick Marleau, whose contract was recently offloaded by the Toronto Maple Leafs for the hefty price of a first-round pick, as a warning to stay away.

Then again, Marleau was several years older than Pavelski when he left for free agency. If you compare their age 28-34 seasons, their production is very similar — Pavelski has a small edge with 16 more points in just two more games. Marleau had a sizable drop in production over the next three years, but was still a good player:

Highlighted: Marleau’s three seasons after hitting age 35.

Are those point totals worth $7-8 million a season? No, but Pavelski’s also a different player, and may not experience a similar decline. And given how close the Stars were to eliminating the eventual Stanley Cup champions this past postseason, just a single year of Pavelski’s elite production might be enough.

In summary, Pavelski’s age and likely cap hit should give teams pause, but it shouldn’t scare them away. If you’re looking for the best center option on the market, it’s not Matt Duchene — it’s Joe Pavelski.