If an inkling of doubt exists in Logan Couture’s mind, it’s buried so deep, it’s undetectable.
The two most recent conclusions to San Jose Sharks seasons have been something much more potent than frustrating: 2014’s stunning first-round ousting at the hands of the nemesis Los Angeles Kings, which occurred after the Sharks gripped a 3-0 stranglehold on the series; and 2015’s unceremonious petering out of the race, which snuffed out the NHL’s second-longest playoff-appearance streak at 10 seasons and led to a coaching change.
Such unhappy endings should make a player question the state of his team. When Todd McLellan left San Jose for free agency, he saw the Sharks as rebuilding. General manager Doug Wilson views the roster differently. And Couture? Well, he sees the 22nd-place team as a legitimate contender.
“We’ll make the playoffs next year,” Couture told Sportsnet in a recent interview. “We have too good of a team to not. So we’re gonna go back, and our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. That’s what we want to do.”
To that end, Wilson has brought in a coach, Peter DeBoer, who guided an under-the-radar New Jersey Devils squad to the Cup final in 2012. Similarly, in light of their recent underachieving, fans might not see these Sharks coming. (Word to Mick Fanning.)
Free agent winger Joel Ward brings a track record of post-season reliability to California. And veteran goalie Antti Niemi, dealt to the Dallas Stars, will be replaced by a young, eager tandem of Alex Stalock and new acquisition Martin Jones.
Wilson also signed free agent Paul Martin, 34, to steady a defence that allowed more goals in 2014-15 than it had in the nine previous campaigns.
Couture points to Martin’s veteran leadership and penalty killing (San Jose ranked 25th in that category) as key assets.
“When you play Pittsburgh and you see his name on the board, you think, ‘OK, this is one of the better D-men we’re going to have to go against.’ It’s good to have him on our side,” Couture said.
“This off-season we went out and got some players. Last off-season, obviously we didn’t. Talking to our GM and other players on the team, everybody’s very excited for this year. They’re excited to have their best years and come to camp in shape.”
Couture, 26, actually had a fine year offensively, scoring 27 goals and putting up a career-high 67 points. For the first time in his NHL life, he played all 82 games. But his career-worst minus-six rating is indicative of a team that couldn’t bolt the doors when it needed to.
“We didn’t play well enough. We had a stretch in February where we lost a lot of home games. That’s probably what killed us down the stretch,” he explains. Normally deadly in the Tank, the Sharks posted a losing home record (19-17-5). “We just weren’t a good enough team throughout the year. We weren’t consistent. We didn’t defend well enough.”
It’s a nasty question, but we’re curious: Which hurt more, getting beat by L.A. four straight or missing the post-season altogether?
“It’s worse missing the playoffs, by far. You don’t give yourself a chance to win the Stanley Cup,” Couture says.
“You fight for months and months to give yourself a chance to win the Stanley Cup, and when you miss it… you just have no chance.”
Mark his words: The Sharks will give themselves a chance in 2016.