Logan Couture was an obvious choice to succeed Joe Pavelski after his four seasons as Sharks captain.
The veteran center was an alternate captain during Pavelski’s time leading the locker room. He’s a long-tenured Shark with steady on-ice performance and penchant for stepping up in the clutch. The 31-year-old has the work ethic and temperament required of such a post so, after Pavelski signed a three-year with the Dallas Stars last summer, Couture eventually had the “C” stitched on his sweater.
Couture’s first season leading the team was rockier than expected. The Sharks went from Western Conference finalists to cellar dwellers in a flash, with the team adjusting to Pete DeBoer’s in-season firing after a sluggish start and unable to recover while beset by injuries to star players. That included Couture, who missed 17 games with a fractured ankle.
The locker room was admittedly tense during an unexpected downturn, but Couture worked hard to keep the squad focused on playing together under interim coach Bob Boughner.
Couture has had time to reflect on his first NHL experience as captain since the league hit pause on the 2019-20 season in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the distance has provided perspective. While the season went awry, Couture vowed to use those bad times as a way to learn and grow as a leader.
“It was obviously a learning experience in a lot of different situations, many of which I had never been in as a player,” Couture said Thursday in a video conference with Sharks reporters. “We had a coach get fired. We went through tough times, a lot of guys got hurt and we lost a lot of games in difficult ways. Although it was a very difficult, difficult season, that I can learn a lot from situations we were in as a team and I was in individually. My goal is to become a better teammate, person and player from this past year.”
Couture believes the Sharks had a lackluster training camp that led to a poor start, and things spiraled from there. Losing consistently was a new experience for most, considering the Sharks had missed the playoffs only once since the 2003-04 season. The new and difficult experience was uncomfortable, and Couture admits the players didn’t always handle things well.
“When you’re losing and things are going your way, frustrating builds and it builds quickly,” Couture said. “With us, a lot of guys in our room have never gone through a season like that. Some may have years ago, but not recently. From top to bottom I don’t think anyone handled it the best possible way. I’m obviously in that group. There’s a lot that I think I can learn from.
“All we can do now is move forward, come together and learn from this. Everyone needs to buy in. Get a good training camp underneath us and get going from there. Everyone will learn from this year and it’ll make us stronger.”
The captain’s lieutenants feel the same push to help the team stay together and improve quickly after a lost season where they didn’t even qualify for a modified 24-team playoff format to be played once the season restarts.
Tomas Hertl also dealt with a knee injury ending his season in late January, but still feels he could’ve done more as a leader.
“I tried to be the same guy and lead, but I know I can be better in that role,” Hertl said. “I should be Logan’s second hand and help him out more and more. I think I learned a lot as well this past season about the importance of being a leader. I think we should all be a little bit better, especially in a situation like we were in where we struggled.
"All 20 guys should work as one. It doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant or a captain. Everyone should work hard to keep the team together. I really want to be better for Logan because he has been there for me from the start of my career.”