Logan Couture’s emergence in recent years has been crucial for the Sharks’ continued success, being a spark for a team that has aging veterans and had disappointing playoff results.
Ask a casual hockey fan about the San Jose Sharks, and what may you hear? “I don’t know much, but I know they have Joe Thornton – I can’t believe he’s still so good. They have Joe Pavelski and that guy with the huge beard, Brent Burns, too, right? They’re good.”
While there’s nothing against those three – they’re the three-best players on the team – unless you’re a knowledgeable NHL fan who follows the sport more than just watching the playoffs, you wouldn’t hear much of Logan Couture. There might be several reasons for that which are out of his control, but we’ll get to that later.
Couture is still fairly young at 27, but it seems like he’s been a member of team teal for a long time, which he has. He joined the team in 2009 as a 20-year-old and hasn’t looked back.
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His first full season in the league was a special one. Couture scored 56 points in his actual rookie season (2010-11), good for a second-place finish in Calder Trophy voting behind Jeff Skinner. His 32 goals that season was the second-most for a rookie since 2007 (Michael Grabner, 34 – 2010).
He followed that up with an even better sophomore season, tallying 65 points in 2012. Since, he has continued to score at an impressive pace. He’s been a 0.71 point per game-scorer or better every season in his seven-year career, excluding his first season where he played in 25 games. He also has a plus-48 ratio in his career, and is in the penalty box for an average of just over 18 minutes per season. Yes, 18 penalty minutes per season. Most top-six forwards would rack that up in half of a season or less.
Want further proof Couture means as much to the Sharks as maybe any other player on the roster? San Jose went 32-15-5 with Couture in the lineup this year. They went 14-15-1 without him. They turned a six-game losing streak in his absence (Dec. 1-12) to a five-game winning streak in his return (Jan. 9-15).
Couture has 324 points in 431 career games, good for a career average of 0.75 points per game. He has 44 points in 62 career playoff games (0.71 PPG), similar to Patrice Bergeron (0.69), Pavel Datsyuk (0.72) and teammate Joe Pavelski (0.72) – three players destined for the Hall of Fame.
That regular season number beats out fellow forwards Jakub Voracek (0.71), T.J. Oshie (0.69), Max Pacioretty (0.72) and teammate Patrick Marleau (0.73). Voracek is an All-Star on an 8-year, $66 million contract, named 24th on TSN’s list of Top 50 players done before the season. Oshie is a household name for his Olympic shootout-heroics. Pacioretty was 32nd on that list and finished sixth in last year’s Selke Trophy voting. Marleau has over 1,000 career points, is a two-time member of Canadian Olympic gold-medal-winning teams and has made many writers and experts question if he is worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Couture was 48th on that TSN list of Top 50 players and has made one All-Star game, in 2012 where he was notably the last player selected in the fantasy draft-style format. While Couture isn’t as good in his own zone as guys like Bergeron or Pacioretty, he’s still above-average in that area, and it says something that his scoring numbers are comparable/better to those players named above.
So why is it that Couture isn’t better-appreciated around the league, especially outside of the Bay Area and fans of Pacific Division teams?
The most obvious factor is the market he plays in. San Jose has dedicated, passionate fans, and a pretty good amount of them at that, but it’s not an Original Six franchise and it generally doesn’t get the attention that Canadian and Northeast/Midwest U.S. teams get.
He also plays on the West Coast, which again, is not a bad thing or something he can control, but to be brutally honest, less people watch/care about teams on the Pacific Coast because they are time zones (plural) away and cannot stay up late to watch games. Not many people in the NHL’s biggest cities like New York, Toronto, Chicago, Boston and Montreal will stay up until midnight to watch a team play unless it’s their own.
As painful as it may sound for fans of team teal, the team’s lack of playoff success since his emergence has played a part in him being overlooked amongst casual fans as well. The Sharks are looking for their first conference finals appearance since 2011, when Couture was still, by league standards, a rookie.
Injuries have also partially derailed Couture’s career. He missed 17 games in 2013-14 to injury, 30 games this year to injury and his impressive 2012-13 campaign is oft-forgot because of the shortened season due to the lockout.
Couture is not in that very top tier of franchise players like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane. He’s probably not even in the next tier of elite forwards which may include Bergeron, Claude Giroux or Vladimir Tarasenko. But he should come right after them, and he would be a first-line center on many NHL teams not as fortunate as the Sharks who have Pavelski to fit that role. Because Couture isn’t a 40-goal or 90-100 point-scorer and he has yet to have one season in particular where he outperformed his own usual numbers and scored 80-plus points, he has never garnered the attention that many NHL stars have.
Consistency is an important part of any player’s game though, and Couture has excelled in that area. He’s never a guy that will go through an extended scoring-slump, he will put up 60-70 points a year when he’s healthy and is near the top in the record books for the franchise in most categories, often only trailing teammates Marleau, Pavelski and Thornton. He’s already just four points away from being fourth all-time in playoff points as a Shark, he’s third all-time in playoff goals and has the fifth-most game-winning goals in franchise history. He’s already earned eight points in six games in this year’s playoffs, including Friday night in Game One where he scored twice.
Couture probably will never reach the 40-goal or 80-point mark, but you can bank on the complete, two-way forward putting up All-Star caliber numbers when healthy, not doing much of anything wrong when on the ice and being a fantastic teammate. Something has to be said for being consistently great.