Logan Couture and the Runner Ups
As you may have heard, Logan Couture signed a contract extension with the San Jose Sharks this past week. The contract will bind him to the Sharks through the 2013-14 season and pays Couture $5.75 million ($2.75M the first year, $3M the second year). This was a smart move by Doug Wilson; now the Sharks top two forward lines, top defensive pairs, and number one goalie are all signed through 2012-13, security that many other teams would die for (namely the Devils and Predators with Parise and Weber, respectively). In light of his new contract, I decided to post this story I wrote a while ago shortly after the NHL Awards.
Finishing among the top four teams in the NHL in consecutive seasons is no small feat, but if you asked anyone involved with the San Jose Sharks organization, you would know that it is not enough to merely sniff the Stanley Cup. Until the Sharks finally reach the final tier of the playoffs and captain Joe Thornton (or a future captain if they take their sweet time) lifts that silver chalice over his head, the Sharks will feel incomplete. The media will also not give the Sharks any break until they have won the Cup, always labeling them as playoff “chokers” and “no-shows”.
The short comings didn't end with the team's playoff failures, and Logan Couture will be the first to attest to that. After just missing the cut-off for games played to qualify as a rookie in the 2009-10 season with 25, Couture had a breakout rookie performance last season where he racked up an impressive 32 goals, and 56 points while finishing with a rookie best +18 and 8 game winning goals. Those point totals were good enough for second among all rookie behind only Jeff Skinner, who finished the season with 63 points. His 32 goals also placed him second among rookies, this time to Michael Grabner, who tallied 34 goals in his rookie campaign.
What many people familiar with the Sharks know is that Couture's two-way play and compete level set him apart from these other rookies. While Grabner may have incredible breakaway speed, and Jeff Skinner may be doing what he's doing at 18, the youngest player in the league, it is these two factors that many people feel made Couture the better rookie. As a 21-year-old, Logan gained the support of the coaching staff with his great work ethic and defensive responsibility. Not only was he the second line center for most of the season, but he also earned valuable time on the power play, and most importantly, the penalty kill; high honors for a player of Couture's age and experience.
Also a factor in what I saw as a Calder worthy performance was the importance of Couture to his team leading up to and during the post-season. For most of the season, you would be hard pressed to find a better model of consistency for the San Jose Sharks than Couture. Even if he wasn't getting the points, he was always playing hard defensively and was a monster on the puck. When he didn't have it, he always worked his tail off to get it back again. He also always seemed to score big goals at big times, as highlighted by his 8 game-winning goals.
Alas, it was not to be for Logan, who finished second in voting for the Calder Memorial trophy, behind Jeff Skinner. While Skinner's age and point totals were definitely the main factors behind this once-in-a-lifetime win, Couture was certainly no slacker in second place, and most would not have batted an eyelid if it were him raising the hardware and not Skinner. Another factor that may have contributed to Skinner's win may have been (get ready for a 'homer' moment as many will call it) his playing in the Eastern Conference, which no doubt is more publicized than the West.
The next step for these young stars will be consistency throughout their careers to prove that they were not one-and-dones, but rather expand on their rookie years and becoming legitimate NHL stars. The same can be said for the Sharks as a team, as they must take the next step forward, while their team is still in its prime, and finally compete for and capture the Stanley Cup as the top team in the NHL. This may come as soon as next season, as they are preparing for another long run in the playoffs with their recent summer acquisitions. Hopefully for all of the Sharks fans out their, this comes quick and mercifully.