What will the Sharks do if Logan Couture misses time?
Deja vu all over again
When Logan Couture left the Sharks’ loss to the Canucks after a high hit in the third period, the feeling was all too familiar. Vancouver was, after all, where they lost Joe Thornton to a horrific knee injury last season.
It was deja vu all over again on multiple fronts, serving as a reminder of Couture’s own injury last season, when he missed the final seven games of the regular season after taking a ricocheted puck to the mouth.
The nature of Couture’s injury is unknown, but the question now is the same as it was then: How will the Sharks make up for his absence? Fortunately for San Jose, timing is on their side unlike last season.
Play Danny O’Regan
For the immediate future, this is the most likely option. The Sharks waived Ryan Carpenter, at least in part, to give the second-year center an extended look.
O’Regan’s assisted at a decent clip (four in eight games), and will likely play with the most talented linemates he has all year. But, he’s appeared somewhat overmatched in limited minutes, and just plugging him into the lineup still leaves the Sharks without a true center on the fourth line, as long as Barclay Goodrow’s out of the lineup.
Move Tomas Hertl to center
Did you know Hertl’s taken 319 more faceoffs than Couture this season? There’s more to playing center than just taking draws, of course, but that disparity speaks to the Czech forward’s versatility when he’s skated on the wing this season.
The Sharks drafted Hertl as a center, and that’s where he started the season. He impressed at times down the middle while Couture and Thornton missed time at the end of last season, and moving him to the middle minimizes the upheaval on the second line.
Make a trade
This is the least likely option, as the trade market for centers may require a steeper price than Doug Wilson would like. After seeing the pieces involved in the three-way trade involving Kyle Turris and Matt Duchene last month, Wilson may very well stand pat.
Still, there are a few appealing players on expiring contracts, ranging from John Tavares to Tomas Plekanec. Finding a willing trade partner may prove difficult, considering all but four teams are within five points of a playoff spot.
There are no great options
The Sharks are in a better position to address Couture’s injury than they were last season, but that doesn’t mean their options are necessarily better. Couture’s been far and away the team’s best player this season, and his impact cannot be wholly replaced.
It will likely take a combination of two, or all of these options, to even come close. Perhaps the Sharks play both Hertl and O’Regan at center, or trade for a winger to free up Hertl to take Couture’s spot on the second line.
But coming close is essentially the best-case scenario. An extended Couture absence would be the most difficult challenge San Jose has faced all season.