Q&A with Sharks center Logan Couture

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Q&A with Sharks center Logan Couture

On Tuesday, I caught up with Logan Couture during his last few hours in Switzerland for an interview on 95.7 The Game. After 23 points in 22 games with Geneva-Servette, he’s headed back home, and says he will not look to play anywhere else but the NHL this season.  Here’s a transcript of the interview:

On making the decision to stop playing in Switzerland and head back to Canada:

“It was something that I looked at doing for a couple weeks. My main goal was to come over to Switzerland and get in shape for the NHL season, and be ready when it starts.  At this point where I’m at right now, I think I’m ready if the season were to start in the next couple weeks. I’m in game shape, played 20 plus games and got my timing down and everything.  I think I looked at it as a risk-and-reward type thing, where if I continue to play over here and something bad did happen, I would regret it. I’m coming back to Canada to spend some time with my family, which I don’t get to do very often during the season, it’s going to be nice to spend the holidays with them, but I’m hoping a deal does get done soon and we get back to playing hockey.”

On how Swiss hockey compares to the NHL game:

“It’s a lot different, obviously the rink is bigger, it’s much wider. The players are smaller and much less physical.  You get a lot more time with the puck over here.  Players lack the high end skill, but they can all skate.  That’s one thing I realized over here, all the Swiss players they’re fast.  They can really skate in the open ice and they use the extra ice that there is out there, with the space.  It’s a lot different hockey.  I can count the times I was physically hit with a body on one hand over 20 plus games so it’s a big difference.”

On what he will take away from his experience in Switzerland:

“Probably just being in a different country. This is the first time where I’ve been able to spend an extended time overseas in Europe. I was lucky enough to get some time to travel; I went to Paris for a couple days and went to Italy, just going around Europe a little bit.  But I’m a North American guy and I really miss being home, and the one thing that was being tough on me was during the baseball playoffs, not being able to watch.  Games don’t come on over here till 2 or 3 in the morning.”

On being alone in Europe:

“I’m all alone, I lived in a hotel for basically the first 2 months, and you know it got tough.  That’s one thing that was tough on me was being in a single hotel room for 2 months and being away from my family and the time change was tough.”

On how players view the owners, individually or as a whole:

“I haven’t spoke to any of the owners, except for two.  I was in a meeting in July, when the NHL gave us our first proposal. (Boston’s owner Jeremy) Jacobs was there, and the owner from Minnesota (Craig Leipold) was there, and you just get the feeling in those types of meetings with those two, that they are all about themselves and making money, they could care less who the players are. We all introduced ourselves to the owners, those two owners.  And they probably couldn’t tell, us, who we were. They don’t know who the players are, stuff like that.  It doesn’t mean it’s that way for all 30 owners. The players, we don’t know (about the owners) because they’re not allowed to talk.  We haven’t spoken to Sharks owners, anything like that; we don’t know how they feel about it. So that’s what we’re hoping to learn.”

On the communication process with owners:

“We’re going off what we’re hearing from players at those meetings. We’re living off that. It would be nice to hear what they (owners) all think. I think Bettman only needs 8 of them to vote with him and get something to pass. It’s tough for any of the players to gauge where they’re at, because we don’t hear a thing from them (directly).”

On his gut reaction, if there will be an NHL season:

“I hope so.  That’s what we all want to do as hockey players. I’ve played it my entire life for 19 years since I was 3 years old, you know it’s tough waking up not going to the rink, not getting into that game day groove, or to practice. I hope we get this figured out soon.”

Logan’s plans to stay in game shape:

“I’m going to get back into the gym probably starting next week. This first weekend I’m going to check out one of my brother’s games, I haven’t been able to watch him play in 6 or 7 years now. That will be nice to do, just get back and enjoy some time with my parents. Spend some nights and days; really I haven’t seen them in 2 months and it’s been hard to keep in touch with the time change. Probably start working out next week and looking for some ice. I’ve got some buddies, I know Corey Perry (Ducks) and Drew Doughty (Kings) are home in London (Ontario) skating, and just go from there.”

Analysis: Scoring winger a need for Sharks ahead of trade deadline

Analysis: Scoring winger a need for Sharks ahead of trade deadline

SAN JOSE – There are no glaring holes for the San Jose Sharks to fill ahead of next week's NHL trade deadline on March 1.

Still, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is a notorious tire-kicker, and he’s surely working the phones these days to see if there’s anything out there that could help his hockey club, which has a comfortable five-point lead on the Pacific Division midway through its bye week.

“We’ll see, but we do feel really good about this group,” Wilson told CSN earlier this month. “We believe in our players and we believe in our guys on the Barracuda, because they’ve earned that.

“Having said that, our history speaks for itself. If there’s a way to help this hockey team or add something, we’ve always done it, and we’ll always explore it.”

So, what might the Sharks be exploring? There are two areas that make the most sense – a backup goaltender, and a scoring winger.

* * *

No question Aaron Dell has exceeded expectations in his first NHL season. He’s 7-3-1 with a 1.95 GAA and .934 SP in 12 games, and his .953 even-strength save percentage is tops in the league among goalies that have played at least 10 games.

Still, it’s unknown if Dell would be able to handle the day-to-day grind, if anything were to happen to Jones. Even in the minors last season when he earned the number one job with the Barracuda, he wasn’t playing three and four games a week due to the AHL’s Pacific Division having fewer games than the rest of the league. He’s also not been overly tested at the NHL level – of Dell’s 10 starts, only one has come against a team currently in playoff position, and the Calgary Flames are only barely in the second Wild Card spot.

There are some goalies thought to be trade bait as pending unrestricted free agents. They include Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavalec, the Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak, or Philadelphia goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. All could likely be gotten for some combination of young players and/or draft picks.

But is it worth it for the Sharks to make a move for a player that might not even be needed in the postseason? According to one NHL analyst, the Sharks should just take their chances with the inexperienced North Dakota product.

“I probably wouldn’t put a whole lot of resources in [finding a backup goalie],” NBCSN analyst Keith Jones told CSN on the latest Sharks Insider Podcast. “If Martin Jones was injured you’d have a real problem, it would be tough to find a goalie to replace what he brings to the table. I know they tried James Reimer last year, and the book is out on him. … I’m not sure that that’s a major upgrade on Aaron Dell.”

That said, Keith Jones would like to see Martin Jones – who’s on pace to play 69.5 games – get more time off after the schedule resumes. That means increased playing time for Dell.

“I think you might just want to take a chance with your backup a little more frequently,” Jones said. “You may want to sacrifice a few games along the way. [Dell] gains some experience, and Jones gets some rest.”

The impression here is that the Sharks will probably stick with Dell. Sharks coach Pete DeBoer has been nothing short of glowing in his reviews of Dell lately, as well he should be. The goalie has earned his place on this team, and none of the other goalies that the Sharks could acquire would be obvious upgrades at this stage of the season.

* * *

A much stronger case can be made that the Sharks are in need of another scoring winger. 

While the offense has been more dangerous in recent weeks than it was over the first half of the season, it still doesn’t look as effective as it was last season going into the playoffs, when it finished fourth in the league. Yes, the power play has been relatively power-less, but there’s more to it than that.

Mikkel Boedker has been a disappointment after signing a four-year deal as a free agent, and was benched yet again on Sunday. Joonas Donskoi, still out with what looks like a shoulder injury, hasn’t taken that next step after his strong playoff run last season. Joel Ward is off his scoring pace from last year. Patrick Marleau has been outstanding, but remains streaky. Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier have done some nice things as rookies, but neither of them has “arrived” yet, to borrow a word commonly used by DeBoer. Nikolay Goldobin failed in his two-game tryout last week, too.

Finding a winger to play on the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line should be a priority, as DeBoer has tried seven different wingers there this season without finding a permanent fit. 

Among the veterans that could be available are Dallas’ Patrick Sharp or Patrick Eaves, Arizona’s Shane Doan, Colorado’s Jarome Iginla, Detroit's Thomas Vanek, or even Vancouver’s Alex Burrows or Jannik Hansen, if the club is looking for a more agitating type.

Sharp is perhaps the most intriguing name on that list. Although he’s been hurt off and on this season and his numbers are down on a bad Dallas team, he’s a veteran scorer that has won three Stanley Cups as part of Chicago’s dynasty. He’s an obvious upgrade over the players that have rotated through the Thornton line.

Bringing in one of those aforementioned forwards would require some salary cap juggling (especially Sharp, who carries a $5.9 million cap hit) and perhaps a salary from the current roster going the other way, as the Sharks don’t have a whole lot of room right now. But it’s worth exploring, as a consistent offensive attack should be this team’s biggest worry right now with seven weeks until the postseason.

* * *

If the Sharks don’t make a move, DeBoer and company are still confident with the team in the dressing room. After all, most of those players were a part of the team’s run last season, when the Sharks were just two wins from capturing the Stanley Cup.

“For us, it’s not whether a piece comes in or whether we don’t bring any pieces in, I think we’re confident in our group,” DeBoer said. “It’s about us…playing to our identity for as long a stretch as is possible, because that’s what wins in the playoffs. Whether we don’t do anything or whether a piece comes in here, I don’t think that mindset changes.”

Justin Braun said: “Management is going to do what they’re going to do, but if they don’t do anything, we have confidence with everyone in here to get the job done.”

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

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USATSI

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

SAN JOSE – Despite what was technically their sixth loss in the last eight games, the Sharks seemed to put more stock in the point they gained in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins on Sunday night at SAP Center, rather than the one they left on the table.

They have that luxury. 

The Sharks will enter their bye week five points ahead of Edmonton and Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, and figure they’re due for some time off after a short summer followed by a World Cup for some, and a brutal condensed NHL schedule for all.

“[We’ve] showed up and played hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve been in a lot of games. Games we’ve lost, we’ve battled. There hasn’t been any cheat in [our] game. Defensively, we’ve been strong. There’s a lot of good areas in our game that we like right now.”

Playing in the second of a back-to-back against a Bruins team had was coming off of its own bye week, the Sharks fell behind 1-0 on a first period goal by Ryan Spooner, but notched a Patrick Marleau equalizer in a second period in which they outshot the Bruins 16-9. An evenly played third period gave way to overtime, where Brad Marchand scored on a breakaway to give the Bruins their fourth straight win since changing head coaches.

The Sharks spoke before the weekend about finishing the final two games strong before the respite. They ended up gaining three of four points, including Saturday’s 4-1 win in Arizona, and were pleased with their effort against the Bruins as they capped off 10 games in 20 days since the All-Star break.

“It was an important push into this break,” Pete DeBoer said. “To go in up [five points] on the next closest team is a real testament to our group.”

Paul Martin said: “I thought we played pretty well, considering the back-to-back with some travel, and a team that was waiting for us.”

Perhaps the most encouraging performance came from Martin Jones, who was one of a number of Sharks players that was looking particularly fatigued lately. The goaltender entered the game with a 1-0-2 record, 4.46 goals-against average and .837 save percentage in his last four starts, including getting pulled after the first period in Boston just 10 days ago.

Jones was impressive, though, making a vital pad stop on the dangerous David Pastrnak in front of the net midway through the third period to keep it a 1-1 score.

“It was a good game. Two teams playing hard,” Jones said. “We can take a lot of positives from that one. It was a good hard game, just didn’t go our way tonight.”

Overtimes have been an issue lately, though. The Sharks have lost their last four games decided during the three-on-three, all coming within the last two weeks. As satisfied as they are with their cushion in the division, it could have been cushier.

Against the Bruins, Tuukka Rask denied Brent Burns on a two-on-one in overtime, and Marchand scored off of the ensuing faceoff, blowing the zone past Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and corralling a long toss from Torey Krug before sliding it home.

“We get to overtime, shootouts – we expect to get that extra point,” Pavelski said. “We haven’t found it lately. We’ll just keep looking for it.”

DeBoer said: “The points are critical, they’re valuable. I don’t read a lot into [overtime decisions], we’ve won our share over the time I’ve been here. We had a chance to win tonight, too. … I concentrate on the effort, and I thought we got better as the game went on.”

Being focused and energized, as they have been most of the season to this point, shouldn’t be a problem when the season resumes next Saturday in Vancouver. The Sharks are in prime position to win their first division title since 2010-11, and a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final is a distinct possibility.

Losing six of eight won’t be nearly as acceptable coming out of the break as it apparently is going into it, but that’s not something to worry about now, even after another defeat. 

“There are some games you wish you could get back and get those points, but we’re still in a good spot,” Marleau said.