How Sharks captain Logan Couture laid NHL foundation in minor hockey

How Sharks captain Logan Couture laid NHL foundation in minor hockey

Sharks captain Logan Couture had a fitting nickname during his minor hockey days.

When he played for the London Junior Knights during his early teens, Couture's coaches called him "the slump-buster."

"[Kids] who are 14, 15 put a lot of emphasis on what's on the game sheet," John Caldarozzi, Couture's coach at the time, recalled to NBC Sports California's Sonia Tydingco earlier this week. "And in Logan's case, he'd sometimes have teammates who wouldn't score as many goals as they'd like. So, when we slid Logan beside them, the slumps would bust.

“Nothing makes a hockey parent -- and a hockey player -- happier than scoring a goal, and Logan was always happy to help those teammates that might have been struggling at the time."

Couture played in the Junior Knights program for three seasons before playing the 2004-05 season in junior B and then four more in major junior with the OHL's Ottawa 67's. The Sharks drafted Couture No. 10 overall in the 2007 draft after his second season in Ottawa, and Couture developed into a homegrown star over the ensuing decade-and-change.

He signed an eight-year contract extension last summer that will keep him in teal until 2027, and San Jose named him team captain in September. Long before the Sharks gave Couture the "C," though, Caldarozzi saw the traits that made the 30-year-old the obvious choice to succeed departed captain Joe Pavelski.

"I remember saying to Logan, 'When your coach trusts you, the game of hockey gets real easy for you," Caldarozzi said. "In his case, we could always trust Logan. Probably one of the more enjoyable things about coaching him was that you never had to worry about him.

“... You knew he was always prepared, focused. It's a message I send to a lot of kids in our community when I'm on the ice with them. Everybody says they want to be a hockey player, but there's a certain amount of sacrifice that goes into it and Logan made the sacrifice."

Image credit: John Caldarozzi

Caldarozzi remembered meeting Couture as a shy teenager, and the coach said he used to leave a note on the dash of his car reminding him to talk to Couture at practice. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to talk about.

But Couture’s game spoke volumes. He, along with star Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, were the focal points of the Junior Knights’ offense, and Caldarozzi said it was common when the pair would score or assist each of their team’s goals.

Couture also started to develop the two-way skill set he ultimately became most known for. He could play in all situations, showcasing a keen “understanding of what helps the team win and what helps his teammates succeed,” according to Caldarozzi.

That care for his teammates stood out to Caldarozzi when he coached the Sharks' captain. It made Couture the Junior Knights’ “slump-buster,” and Caldarozzi said it still drives Couture’s actions off the ice, too.

“He's an outstanding example for all the kids in the community,” Caldarozzi said. “Not because of what he's done as a hockey player, but because of what he's doing with [his fame] as a hockey player."

Couture has hosted a charity casino night each of the last three summers in London in order to raise money for brain research and concussion awareness. This past summer, he donated a signed, game-worn playoff jersey to a charity golf tournament that honoring Caldarozzi’s cousin, who died of cancer.

The donation didn’t surprise Caldarozzi, but Couture did not tell his former coach about it ahead of time.

“[He’s] very generous with his celebrity, but he wouldn’t want you to know about it,” Caldarozzi said.

[RELATED: Sharks need Meier, young core to get going offensively]

The Sharks have struggled in Couture’s first season as captain, winning just five of their first 16 games. Couture has scored one goal during that span, and none since Oct. 5.

Just as Caldarozzi believed him to be in London, the Sharks could use Couture to help bust their collective slump. His captaincy is compelling proof they believe he can.

“He's put in a lot of time and effort and energy into getting to this point,” Caldarozzi said. “It must be quite the honor when your teammates -- some of them future Hall of Famers and hopefully all of them Stanley Cup champions -- select you as the captain.”

Why Timo Meier's Sharks contract extension looks shrewd in new CBA

Why Timo Meier's Sharks contract extension looks shrewd in new CBA

Qualifying offers to restricted free agents are one of many things that will change in the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement, and fewer players will be able to follow Timo Meier's path.

The Sharks winger signed a four-year, $24 million contract last summer, setting himself up with some hefty insurance in case he and San Jose don't agree to a long-term deal when this one expires. Since Meier will make $10 million in base salary during the last year of his deal, the Sharks must sign him to a qualifying offer equal to that amount in order to retain his rights. Thus, $10 million will be the baseline for potential salary arbitration and Meier can just play on said qualifying offer if he wants to get to unrestricted free agency sooner and/or San Jose is unable to sign him to a long-term extension.

Meier was able to do so under the previous CBA, which ensured a qualifying offer to a restricted free agent automatically equaled their salary in the final year of their previous contract. That won't be the case now, as Pro Hockey Rumors' Gavin Lee noted last week.

"Instead, it will be the lower of the salary in the final year or 120 percent of the [annual average value] of the contract," Lee wrote last week. " ...
This change only applies to contracts signed from here on out, meaning Meier [and others] will still receive qualifying offers equal to their final contracted year."

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Were the new rules to apply to Meier's current contract, the Sharks' qualifying offer to the Swiss forward would be $7.2 million. That's still a hefty chunk of change, but $2.8 million fewer than what Meier's qualifying offer will be. That $2.8 million could make a big difference in San Jose's future cap calculations, since the NHL's salary cap will only rise if the league hits certain revenue targets. The coronavirus pandemic and its to-be-determined effects have made that anything but certain.

The Sharks already have $55.5 million in salary commitments lined up for the summer of 2023, but that number could drop depending upon what happens in the expansion draft. As it stands right now, San Jose has $65.5 million committed to eight players ahead of the 2023-24 season if Meier plays on his qualifying offer. That's without including Tomas Hertl, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.

[RELATED: How new NHL CBA would affect Kane trade, Karlsson contract]

Neither Meier nor Sharks general manager Doug Wilson could've foreseen a pandemic affecting league revenues (and thus the salary cap's rise) when the contract was signed a year ago, yet Meier looks especially shrewd now for having the security of a $10 million qualifying offer to fall back upon in 2023. San Jose, on the other hand, won't be able to bank on a rising salary cap in the same way, and that $10 million figure should factor into Wilson's decision-making moving forward.

It's a wrinkle that only players signed before the new CBA will have to contend with, but it's a very important one for Meier and the Sharks.

How Sharks' previous trades, signings would be affected by new NHL CBA

How Sharks' previous trades, signings would be affected by new NHL CBA

The Sharks were forced to surrender multiple first-round draft picks over the past few years in order to retain top-of-the-line talent.

But in the NHL's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, San Jose's agreements with Evander Kane and Erik Karlsson would have been different.

Kane was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in Feb. of 2018, with the Sharks surrendering Daniel O'Regan and a fourth-round draft pick. But the deal included a condition that if Kane re-signed in San Jose, the compensation sent to Buffalo would increase in value. Sure enough, Kane re-upped with the Sharks and San Jose instead had to deal a 2019 first-round pick to the East Coast.

But the new agreement mandates that teams no longer can include conditions in trades that allow for further compensation if a player re-signs, meaning the Sharks would have been able to hold on to their 2019 first-round pick (No. 29 overall), which ended up being used by the Anaheim Ducks on Canadian wing Brayden Tracey.

[RELATED: How NHL's potential new labor deal could affect Sharks’ offseason plan]

Previous CBA guidelines didn't allow NHL teams to sign players acquired via trade to an eight-year extension until after the following trade deadline. This forced San Jose to wait until June of 2019 to ink Karlsson to his eight-year, $92 million extension with the team, despite joining the organization in Sept. of 2018 after a trade with the Ottawa Senators.

But in the recently ratified CBA, this rule no longer will apply.

The 2019-20 NHL season returns to the ice on Aug. 1, but the Sharks won't be one of the 24 teams competing.