FRISCO, Texas — For so long, Joe Pavelski envisioned his future in San Jose. It was the team that plucked him as a seventh-round draft pick in 2003 and where he spent the first 13 seasons of his NHL career blossoming into one of the league's best scorers despite checking in under 6 feet tall and under 200 pounds.
Then the summer approached, his contract expired and the Sharks had no cap space to retain their soon-to-be 35-year-old captain. The Stars offered him an alternative. On Monday, he took it.
The Stars signed Pavelski to a three-year contract averaging $7 million annually, addressing their top-six scoring concerns by adding a player who scored 38 goals last year. Pavelski's contract contains a full no-trade clause in the first two seasons and a limited one in his third year.
When Pavelski plays his first game in Dallas, it will be the first game in his career he didn't play for the Sharks.
The Stars were one of the few teams that could argue their status as a contender and back it up with cap space to pay marquee free agents. Pavelski and his wife, Sarah, visited the team last Wednesday before heading to Tampa Bay to talk with the Lightning.
"There was always the question like, 'Hey, are you guys really going to leave?' " Pavelski said. "It seemed like it was just getting more and more on our side. It was gradual. I'm sure it's still going to feel different right away.
"But it's slowly gotten a little easier. It'll never fully go away, I'm sure. But now that we're here, you can see what's ahead of us and you can really see yourself fitting into their locker room and spending time with their guys and getting to know everybody."
On a visit last week, Pavelski toured the practice facility in Frisco, Texas. He reunited with an old friend, Tom Holy, the Stars' vice president of communications who used to work in San Jose. He saw the youth hockey rinks for his 8-year-old son, Nate, and drove around Highland Park and Preston Hollow, where some of the Stars live.
From playing in the Western Conference for so many seasons, he knew what the atmosphere at American Airlines Center is like. But what about the drive to the practice rink and to the arena?
"Just really tried to visualize ourselves being here, and it seemed like a perfect fit for us," Pavelski said.
Holy asked Tyler Toney of Dude Perfect, the viral Dallas-based trick shot group, to make a video for the Pavelskis. From the middle of a lake in Missouri filming a fishing battle, they obliged.
Pavelski sat down with coach Jim Montgomery, who explained why the team needed him and how his addition would make the team better. During the process, Montgomery watched all of Pavelski's goals from last year and watched how he played in games against the Stars.
He'll instantly become a top offensive weapon in line with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov and a threat at the net front on the power play tipping pucks from John Klingberg.
"With Joe Pavelski, he's someone that has overachieved his whole career in a lot of people's minds. Even people today still underestimate him," Montgomery said. "Because of his details, his habits, he's a perfectionist. It's not by fluke that he scores 38 goals at the age of 34. I don't see him slowing down, because he works. I actually think he's going to make everybody a better goal scorer because of his habits and his details."
Pavelski went to Benn's house during the visit and later called Ben Bishop and texted with Seguin. Benn, the Stars' captain, has remained in Dallas during the offseason and can often be seen skating in the morning with his brother Jordie in Frisco. In addition to being part of the pitch to Pavelski, Benn was also a draw for the other forward the Stars signed Monday: Corey Perry, who played in the 2014 Olympics with Benn for Canada.
"I think when I left there, I thought the world of him," Perry said. "He's a heck of a hockey player and just to be on the same team again, hopefully we can rekindle that chemistry and build something in Dallas."
For Pavelski, the negotiating began with the term offered. He wanted a three-year contract that would employ him through his age-37 season, and on a contender. The Stars — with the prime of Seguin, the dominance of Bishop, a Game 7 double-overtime exit to the Stanley Cup champions and a rising star in Miro Heiskanen — checked the boxes.
The biggest question surrounding Pavelski is his age. He turns 35 on July 11 and will be as old as Jason Spezza was last season. While Pavelski scored 38 goals, his 188 shots on goal were his lowest in a full season. Will the production carry through the three years of his contract?
"I don't know what people say their prime is, but some of my best years have been 30 to 35," Pavelski said. "There's no reason that number isn't going to stretch to 35, 36 and 37. And I believe that. The one knock on me has always been my skating, and I haven't been as fast as some of the guys and I've never felt out of place out there. I've always been able to get it done. I think I've been at this level for a long time, and I don't see it going down."
With Pavelski, the Stars may have found their answer for an offense that was tied for the third-fewest goals in the league last year.
"If we have to start the season the way that we are now, I like our team a lot," general manager Jim Nill said. "I think we're in a good place. I think we're stronger than we were at the end of last season. But if there's something that pops up over the summer here, we're in a position to make some moves, too."