Thursday, July 11, 2019

End of an Era

It's been 10 days since the roster of the San Jose Sharks was forever changed.  Ten days since Sharks Territory collectively wept as we said goodbye to our captain.  And ten days since my heart broke and a small part of me became a Dallas Stars fan.

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On July 1st, the NHL's free agency period started.  On that day, our beloved leader Joe Pavelski signed a three year contract with the Dallas Stars.  Since then, it's taken me these 10 days to fully process everything.  The stages of grief are real, and although it may seem strange to mourn losing a player who is simply going to play for another team, this is what happens when you grow attached to them.  Just this past year alone, Eliot and I watched these guys almost every other night for 6 months straight, plus every other night in the playoffs.  They become family.  And this one really hurts.

Joe Pavelski is one of the main reasons that I fell in love with hockey as well as the San Jose Sharks.  I've watched him since the beginning of his career and he's always been one of my favorites.  We're the same age, both born in 1984, and I think that made him relatable to me.  (Side note: Today is his 35th birthday.  Happy Birthday Joe!)  I've always marveled at his career and the milestones he'd hit along the way.

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And what a career it's been so far.  For 13 years he's donned teal.  For 13 seasons, he's and skated through the giant Shark head at the beginning of every home game.

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Some people might not have expected much from the seventh round draft pick, (2003 NHL Draft- 205th overall) but for the past 13 seasons he's proven them wrong over and over.  The numbers speak for themselves: 963 games, 355 goals, 406 assists, 761 points and 60 game winning goals.  He's been selected to attend three NHL All-Star games.  He's scored 100 points in 134 playoff games.  Pavelski is the Sharks second ranked goal scorer, third in assists, third in points and that's not even scratching the surface on all of the other records he holds in the Sharks organization.

Through the years, he's been known by different names- from "Little Joe" to "The Big Pavelski" to "Captain America."  The guys on the team simply referred to him as Pavs.

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He's been captain of the Sharks for the last four seasons including 2016 when we went to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time.  He was also the captain of Team USA (hence, Captain America) in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.  I've always been proud to wear the "C" on my many Pavelski jerseys the past few years.

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Days Leading up to July 1st

I think that I went through some of the stages of grief before July 1st.  I was dreading the first day of signing.  As each day passed without any news, I knew the possibility that he'd be leaving the Sharks was growing even though I was in denial.  Sharks fans were getting restless and unfortunately, I allowed myself to get sucked into it. 

Rumors were flying around left and right.  It was rumored that the Sharks weren't offering him the term (length of contract) that he wanted and that it wasn't about the money.  Not going to lie, I was really frustrated.  In reality, all we could do was wait.  

No one really had any insider info until a few days before July 1st when Pavelski and his wife were seen in Dallas and in Tampa.  He went to visit both teams to meet their management team, coaches and to see their facilities.  I was pretty discouraged at this point.  It seemed inevitable.  This was really happening and there wasn't anything we could do about it.  There were photos of him out to dinner in Tampa.  As of the night of June 30th, multiple reports stated that he was going to sign with the Dallas Stars.

July 1st, 2019

The morning of July 1st, I woke up with a pit in my stomach.  Free agency started at noon Eastern time.  I found out that he'd officially signed with Dallas about 20 minutes after noon while sitting in the parking lot of Michaels.  It was done.  I talked briefly on the phone with Eliot before returning home.  I spent the afternoon watching the Sharks littlest (and cutest) team member Finn and his nine siblings on the live puppy cam.

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At first, I was numb to it.  I had felt it coming, but now that it had I didn't really know what to think.  I was obviously sad, and from what I saw online, I wasn't alone.

Doug Wilson, the Sharks general manager, said in his statement that Pavelski had "earned the right to become a free agent".  Joe deserves to get paid what he's worth. He deserves the freedom to sign a contract for the length that he wants.  The Sharks weren't willing to offer him that, and I don't blame him for finding a team that would.  

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In the end, I can't blame Pavelski or Doug Wilson... losing players in a necessary evil in the world of cap space.  There's only so much money to go around.  And big name players demand big numbers.  After signing Erik Karlsson to over 11 million a year, the Sharks only had so much money left.  Pavelski wasn't going to get what he deserved.

Still, it's a hard pill to swallow.  I think the thing that has brought me most comfort is hearing Joe talk about signing with Dallas.  In an interview that he did right after signing with them, he talked about his reasoning behind it.  As much as it hurts, the Sharks weren't offering him 3 years and that was his number one priority.  Obviously the money was also a contributing factor, but it was the length of term that the Sharks and he couldn't come to an agreement on.  Then, he also wanted to go to a team that was going to to be a Stanley Cup contender.  He said that all of those things were why he thought Dallas would be a good fit for him.  It sounds like it was.

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The fact that it was an educated decision to sign with them makes me feel comforted too.  It's not like he was backed into a corner.  Reports stated that he had multiple teams reach out to him (supposedly in the double-digits) so he could choose which teams he wanted to visit and look into.  I'm glad he was able to find the right fit for him.

I have to admit this is way easier than if he would have been traded.  Players depart teams on less than good terms all the time.  Although, I'm sure he was disappointed the team he's played on for 13 years couldn't match the offer Dallas gave him.  Plus, with the Seattle expansion draft coming in the next few years, it would have been devastating if we weren't able to protect him and he got taken from us that way.

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Now that I've had time to process it, I feel like I'm on my way to acceptance.  I can't change anything; it is what it is.  I still love my Sharks - that hasn't changed.  I do know what seeing Pavelski in a Dallas uniform for the first time is going to be really hard.  I'm already having a hard time picturing him in anything other than teal #8.  But, maybe it won't be so bad.  He's already going to be without the number 8.  (It's already been retired in Dallas so he can't pick that number.)  By things I've seen online, he's going to wear the #16 jersey instead.  The Dallas Stars' colors are green and blue and those combine to make teal.  Their home uniforms are the pretty green color.  Plus, this could be worse.  He could have signed with a team I totally despise.  So there's that.

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The Future and Upcoming Milestones

According to what I've seen over the past 10 days, most Sharks fans are still taking the loss pretty hard.  All of the posts the organization posted about Pavelski (on both Facebook and Instagram) were flooded with comments: thanking him, how much he'll be missed, how he was so many people's favorite player, how he really needs to come back to SJ in three years and wishing him and his family luck in Dallas.

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In fact, I think fans are taking this loss harder than losing former long-time Shark, Patrick Marleau.  (Ironically, Marleau is now free to re-sign with the Sharks.)  "Jumbo" Joe Thornton wants to return this year... so much for getting the band back together for one last run at the Stanley Cup together as the team we've loved for so long.  I have absolute confidence in our guys... but when/if it happens, it'll be hard to win a cup without Pavelski there to raise it with us.  It would be even harder to watch him win it in Dallas.  Although, I'd still be cheering him on and be really happy for him.

Nevertheless, there will be plenty of other hard moments ahead of us:

Pavelski is quickly approaching his 1,000th NHL game played.  (He's only got 37 more to go.)  I was looking forward to watching the ceremony for it after seeing Brent Burns celebrate his 1,000 games this year.  It's depressing that Joe will be celebrating it with a new team after only 37 games when he spent 963 of those 1,000 games in teal.

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Joe Pavelski's return to the Tank will be January 11th when there will most likely be a video tribute of his 13 seasons in teal.  Patrick Marleau's return to the Tank was emotional.  After seeing how fans rallied behind Pavelski when he was injured in the playoffs, I'm sure this will be ten times more emotional.  (I know it will be for me.)

The Dallas Stars play the Boston Bruins on February 27th.  Eliot's already promised me that we can go as it's likely the only game where I'll see him play in person all next season.  I've already vowed to wear my teal #8 jersey.  I've got a brand new one that I wasn't able to wear to one of his games.  I'm looking forward to wearing it then.

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And, at some point, Eliot and I will make it to a Sharks away game in Dallas.  (We want to visit all of the NHL teams' arenas.)  Hopefully, we'll be able to do the Dallas road trip sometime in the next three years while Pavelski is still playing there.


Of course, you can't look ahead to the future without looking back at the past.  I've already done a pretty extensive recap of this past San Jose Sharks 2018-2019 season, so I won't go into too much depth on that here.  Over the past week and a half, I've seen a ton of videos of his years with the Sharks.  There are a lot of great memories.

This past season was especially memorable for me.  Eliot and I saw him score his 700th career point live while at a game in New Jersey.  I got a hockey puck from him when he tossed it over the glass to Eliot in Tampa.  We watched him participate in the 2019 All Star Weekend in San Jose back in January.  And the highlight- when Eliot and I met him, got autographs and I got a photo with him in March.

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The 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs had so many memories:  Taking a puck to the face and scoring a goal off it.  Losing a few teeth off that goal but coming back to the game a few minutes later.  Getting knocked out on the ice in Game 7 against Vegas and having Joe Thornton, Evander Kane and Brent Burns helping him get off the ice. #BeatTheAvsForPavs.  The rally towel waving during Game 5.  Returning to play in Game 7 against Colorado and scoring the first goal of the game.  And May 11th, when I attended Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals where I saw him score what would be his last goal as a Shark at the Tank.  (Ironically, I actually video taped the fans and the celebration after that goal.  I'm so glad I did.)

I'm thankful for all of the great memories.  Still, there are so many things that I'm going to miss now that he's no longer a Shark... the stupid things like being in the silly Sharks television commercials and holiday videos.  His positive outlook in his post-game interviews.  The absolutely crazy tip-ins from Brent Burns while in front of the net.  The sexy slap-shot goals.  His heart and how much he clearly loves the game.  His hockey IQ.  His leadership.  How he kneeled and pumped his fist during his goal celebrations.

But above all that, his infectious smile is what I'll miss the most.  I think that's one of the biggest reasons that I've enjoyed watching him all these years.  You can feel the emotions flowing off of him in those moments.  You can tell how much his teammates meant to him when his face would just light up when they scored their first goal of the season, or after they hadn't scored one in a while.  I'll never forget the night during the playoffs when he came out of the tunnel and was waving a rally towel to SAP Center with a giant grin across his face.  Those are the moments that I'll miss the most.

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The End of An Era

It truly is the end of an era in San Jose.  We're all really going to miss our captain.  I am so appreciative of everything he's done for the San Jose Sharks over the past 13 seasons.  It's clear that Joe Pavelski has been a well-respected and incredibly loved member of the Sharks organization and the San Jose community.

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Happy Birthday Pavs!!!  Good luck on your next three years in Dallas.  Sharks Territory will never be quite the same.  I'm really going to miss seeing you skating in teal but even that won't stop me from cheering you on.  No matter where you play, I'll still be rooting for you.  I'll forever be grateful for your part in making me fall in love with hockey and the Sharks and you'll always be my favorite player.  So long partner.  °o°

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