Stars' Joe Pavelski walking away after 18 seasons

ByRyan S. Clark ESPN logo
Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski said Tuesday that he will not play next season while adding, "this is it for me."

While Pavelski did not outright say he was retiring from the NHL, he did tell reporters during the Stars' exit interviews that he had known for a while that the 2023-24 season would probably be his final campaign.

Pavelski, who turns 40 in July, was the NHL's second-oldest player this season behind Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Giordano. He was in his fifth season with a Stars team that was one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, a trophy that had eluded Pavelski during his 18-year career.

A 2-1 loss Sunday to the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference final ended the Stars' season and was the start of questions about Pavelski's future. Stars players such as captain Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Wyatt Johnston, who has lived with Pavelski and his family, were all emotional when answering questions about if this could have been Pavelski's last game.

Pavelski, who was slated to be an unrestricted free agent, finished with five shots on goal while logging 16:50 of ice time in what appears to be his final game.

Stars coach Pete DeBoer, who previously coached Pavelski when they were with the San Jose Sharks, also addressed the reality that Game 6 may have been Pavelski's last.

"I don't know if it'll be Joe's last game or not, but it was an absolute privilege of my coaching career to coach a guy like that," DeBoer said after Game 6. "Our young players are all better for having been around a guy like that."

Pavelski told ESPN during the team's second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche that he was "kind of living in the moment right now, but I'm not too worried about it" when he was asked about his future beyond this season.

Stars general manager Jim Nill also told ESPN during the second round that Pavelski didn't want his future to be a distraction.

"He's going to know," Nill said. "There comes a time when your body, your mind -- you just say it's enough."

A seventh-round pick by the Sharks in 2003, the Plover, Wisconsin, native would become both a future captain and one of the franchise's all-time greats. He spent two seasons at the University of Wisconsin before embarking on a career that saw him finish with 476 goals and 1,068 points in 1,332 regular-season games while having 74 goals and 143 points in 201 playoff games.

Pavelski's performances helped the Sharks remain one of the NHL's long-term Stanley Cup contenders. The club reached four conference finals and one Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2016 when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Sharks reached the conference final in 2019 when they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. That would be the Sharks' most recent playoff appearance and it was also Pavelski's last with the club.

He left the Sharks and signed a three-year contract with the Stars. Pavelski and the Stars reached the Stanley Cup Final in his first season when they ultimately lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Following a one-year hiatus, the Stars returned to the playoffs in 2021-22 but lost in the first round.

With veterans such as Benn, Pavelski and Seguin, the Stars were gradually supplementing that group with young homegrown talents such as Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz, Jake Oettinger and Johnston. It created a roster that saw the Stars reach the conference final in 2023. They lost to the Vegas Golden Knights but affirmed their place as a serious title challenger.

His time captaining the Sharks led to him joining an already established leadership group in Dallas. Pavelski's role as a leader also allowed him to work with younger players such as Johnston and Logan Stankoven while providing an additional voice for teammates in need of support.

"He cares about our players. He cares about everyone and wants to see us succeed," Jason Robertson told ESPN. "It definitely shows his character and his leadership. That's something that will definitely follow him throughout his whole life."