Joe Pavelski, Opportunity and the Dallas Stars

We’re on the final part on our three article series on Joe Pavelski. This first two articles covered his time with the San Jose Sharks, the first describing his career, the second comparing him to Patrick Marleau. Now that the Dallas Stars have Pavelski, the question is, what do they do with him?

Looking at Joe Pavelski’s New Chance with the Dallas Stars

The Intangible Pavelski

Pavelski has a lot of miles on him. He plays a net-front game and takes a beating. Nonetheless, he perseveres without getting discouraged. He’s an excellent role model in two ways; how to play the game and how to manage yourself.

What does this suggest? Put him with younger players. One can learn from observation, but the best way to learn is to be on the ice with him. Younger players will see how he adjusts to the play. They can learn how he handles tense situations, how he communicates, how he prepares. They can learn from his poise. As noted in the first article in the series, Pavelski is about championship habits and the Stars have plenty of younger players who can benefit from this.

Some may describe these as intangible benefits — easy to describe, harder to quantify. Helping talented younger players grow has immense benefits and Pavelski is perfectly suited for his role. Even if it isn’t easily quantified on the stat sheet, it will show in the win column.

The Tangible Pavelski

Will Joe Pavelski continue to score goals in Dallas? Absolutely. Over his Sharks career, Pavelski benefited from having excellent offensive defencemen who knew how to pass the puck or shoot it where Pavelski could re-direct it. Dan Boyle and Brent Burns held this role for over a decade in San Jose. Turns out, the Stars also have excellent offensive defencemen. And while the Stars have other talented scorers, Pavelski offers additional ways to get pucks the past netminders. I expect an adjustment period between Pavelski and gifted defencemen Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg. I don’t expect a long adjustment period. Pavelski’s puck tipping skills will become a prominent feature of the Stars offense within the first month or two.

Pavelski has been a top-six forward group for most of his career. For the first 11 seasons of his career, the Sharks top-line centre was Joe Thornton, which meant Pavelski, a natural centreman, played on the second line. Five seasons ago, Pavelski moved to Thornton’s wing and onto the top line.

In recent seasons with Thornton’s decline, the Sharks became a top-six oriented team, with the top line designation in the eye of the beholder. Still, Pavelski played the sort of minutes one expects from a top-line forward. Which line Pavelski plays on in Dallas is an open question, but there are reasons to move him away from the top group.

Flexibility for the Stars

Pavelski has a wide array of skills. This allows him to adapt to a team’s need as opposed to the team needing to find the right role for him. This gives the Stars a lot of flexibility.

At age 35, he’ll be called on to skate a lot of minutes, but perhaps not quite as many as he skated for the Sharks. His health remains good, though he was beaten up in the recent playoffs. He entered with a knee issue which didn’t fully resolve during the playoffs. He’d lose teeth taking a puck to the jaw, then suffer multiple injuries on the throwdown by Paul Stastny, including a concussion, a cut requiring staples to close it and a hand injury which required surgery to repair.

The Stars may opt for Pavelski to handle second-line duties, which means a bit less ice time and perhaps less of opponents’ best defenders. This seems ideal. I wouldn’t rule out a third-line role for Pavelski. Against lesser defenders, he can provide a major edge while keeping his 5-on-5 ice time down. This saves him for a bigger role on the power play and more critically, in the playoffs.

Speaking of the power play, Pavelski will make an already good Stars power play even better. The Stars finished 11th on the power play last season. Tyler Seguin led the Stars power play with nine goals. Pavelski had 12 last season in San Jose. He can also help the penalty kill. While he hasn’t been a regular on the unit, he is good at face-offs and winning a face-off to begin a penalty kill is a big plus.

The Right Fit in Dallas?

Is Pavelski a good fit for the Stars? I’ll go further, he’s an exceptional fit for the Stars. He’ll bring an element of leadership on a team with young talent. His top skills, such as redirecting pucks and providing a net-front presence are an ideal fit for a team with skilled and creative defencemen.

Critical goals at key times can only help a Stars team looking to reach the league’s highest level. While Pavelski won’t add speed, he knows how to play effectively with faster players. On the power play, the Stars can roll out an elite top unit and perhaps a more dangerous second unit. When the team needs a clutch face-off win, they can turn to the guy who’s done it over and over again.

The Pavelski signing has some risk. The last two seasons, Pavelski has finished even and minus-4, the two worst marks of his career. As Indiana Jones once said, “It’s not the years, it’s the miles.” With Pavelski, there is no discounting the miles. He has taken the physically tougher road consistently and it won’t be a major surprise anyone if his body gives out on short notice.

With Joe Pavelski, the Stars not only made a smart signing but got a bargain in the process. The risks associated with health and age are there, but the reward is substantial. The fit is excellent and the team is capable of doing big things in the playoffs. Is Pavelski the difference-maker who gets this generation’s Stars a Stanley Cup? It’s very possible — he certainly tips the odds in their favor.

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