When the Carolina Hurricanes locked up blossoming young star Jeff Skinner to a contract extension on August 8, it likely piqued the interest of at least one player on the San Jose Sharks.
Logan Coutures eyes must have lit up when he saw the deal that Skinner, who edged out Couture for the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year after the 2010-11 season, inked with the Hurricanes. The left winger will earn slightly more than 34 million over the six-year term of the deal, which averages out to a salary cap hit of 5.725 a year beginning with the 2013-14 season.
Couture begins a two-year contract extension he signed a year ago that will pay him 5.75 million total before he would become a restricted free agent and eligible for salary arbitration in the summer of 2014 (under the current CBA).
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The numbers that Skinner and Couture have put up in their first two full NHL seasons are eerily similar. In 159 games, the 23-year-old Couture has 121 points, or .76 points per game.
Skinner, 20, has 107 points in 146 games in his first two seasons, for an average of .73 points per game.
Fortunately for the Sharks, they are at least a year away from having to discuss a contract extension with their All-Star center. In fact, under the rules of the current CBA, theyre not even allowed to discuss an extension until next summer, and if the owners have their way in current CBA talks the terms of that contract wont surpass five years.
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When Couture and the Sharks do get into discussions, regardless of where a potential rolled-back salary cap is set, Couture should be in for a huge payday provided he continues to improve on his year-over-year numbers. Couture ended the 2011-12 season tied for the team lead in goals with 31 despite playing through an injured left shoulder that required off-season surgery. The team's lone representative at the All-Star game had nine more points in 2011-12 (65) than the year before (56 in 2010-11).
One benefit for San Jose, and something that Doug Wilson surely realized when he signed Couture last summer, is that the team should have plenty of cap space to ink Couture to an expensive deal after the 2013-14 season. The big-money contracts of Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau are all set to expire then, although its the opinion of this writer that the club should also extend the 33-year-old Thorntons contract at some point as well.
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Joe Pavelski, whose 4 million-a-year deal expires that summer too, could also require a significant raise if he continues his current level of production. Pavelski is coming off of a career-high 31 goals (tied with Couture) after spending the majority of the 2011-12 season on the wing with Thornton.
Of course, the landscape could change drastically depending on what the next CBA has in store. The two sides are scheduled to meet on Wednesday and do not appear close to a new deal.
Even so, it would be understandable if Couture has already daydreamed a bit about his next raise.