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, giving the team 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 told LeBrun he has not ruled out coming back to the Sharks, however.
"Yeah we'll see how that goes,'' Pavelski told LeBrun. "Maybe I come back. I don't know.''
League sources suggested to LeBrun that Pavelski "may visit" the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars later this week. A league source told The Athletic's Craig Morgan that the Arizona Coyotes already met with Dan Plante, Pavelski's agent. LeBrun wrote that the Buffalo Sabres could have also called Pavelski, but they "don't have a site visit scheduled."
The President's Trophy-winning Lightning faces similarly tough salary-cap decisions as the Sharks, with restricted free agent Brayden Point still unsigned. But the Stars ($9.957 million in salary 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, which tied for the second most of his career, and has scored more goals 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 that 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 (12 p.m. 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.