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Sharks moving on after missing out on Tavares

Extend Couture, still in position to sign free agents, add players in trade

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

Doug Wilson led with the highlight. He started with Logan Couture.

Though the San Jose Sharks -- like the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning -- ended Sunday without pre-eminent free agent forward John Tavares, they did keep a significant piece, signing Couture to an eight-year contract extension that begins after this season. It was an important deal, but it wasn't all that the Sharks wanted for their July 1 haul.

It wasn't Tavares.

"We pride ourselves on being able to take a swing on difference makers like this," Wilson said. "When we came into this year's (unrestricted free agent) market, there were probably three top UFAs: John Tavares, Evander Kane, and [Washington Capitals defenseman] John Carlson. We signed one of them and we took a swing at another one."

 

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The Sharks made their first move at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline, acquiring Kane in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for the stretch run into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and potentially for the future if the fit was right. Kane had 14 points (nine goals, five assists) in 17 regular-season games and five points (four goals, one assist) in nine playoff games and the Sharks cemented the relationship with a seven-year contract on May 24.

Their bid to get Tavares did not have the same outcome. Instead, Tavares opted to sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, agreeing to a seven-year, $77 million contract on Sunday. That left Wilson and four other general managers without the center they hoped to add after an intense interview period when each pitched Tavares in Los Angeles on the reasons to join their teams. 

It was a process that Wilson, like the others, appreciated, even if he was left without his prize. It said something about the Sharks, about the destination that San Jose has become for free agents. It said something about the Sharks' potential to win. But it also was a process that left them mostly empty-handed at the start of free agency.

Video: Couture discusses his contract extension with Sharks

"As far as exploring other players, we looked at it. John was the one that we wanted to swing at," Wilson said. "We feel that we have a very good hockey team. We had 100 points last year without [Joe Thornton] and without [Kane] most of the year. We scored 252 goals. We've got a good hockey team. But I've always explored every opportunity to add players of this ilk to our team. 

"Do we feel like we lost out on anything? No, not really."

So, no, Wilson did not appear worried. Not only did he intimate that the Sharks would soon have news to report on a deal with Thornton, their own unrestricted free agent and former captain, the GM also mentioned repeatedly that they struck gold over and over in the trade market. And that remains open for business.

"Our commitment was to take a swing at [Tavares]," Wilson said. "We knew that if we didn't get him and we couldn't match up to his childhood dream of going home, we understand that, but we're still positioned -- just like we've always been, historically -- to add players through trade. That's how we got Thornton and [defenseman Brent] Burns and [goaltender Martin] Jones and Kane and even going back to Danny Boyle."

It was earlier Sunday that Wilson heard from Tavares, the Sharks alerted to the fact they were not the winners, that he was headed to Toronto. It was a call Wilson lauded, calling Tavares' treatment of the situation "tremendously professional."

It was a disappointment. The Sharks wanted that extra piece in their pursuit of a Stanley Cup. They defeated the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference First Round last season but were eliminated in the second round by the Vegas Golden Knights, who reloaded by signing forward Paul Stastny on Sunday.

The Sharks signed Couture, who had 61 points (34 goals, 27 assists) in 78 games and 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 10 playoff games for them last season. They feel well-positioned for this season, even without Tavares, given that Kane will be back, and presumably Thornton. 

There are still calls to be made, deals to be struck. And Wilson certainly sounded open to those possibilities.

"You can't chase players," he said "You can go and make decisions on guys that sometimes you look back and you say, 'Jeez, I wish I'd waited a while and acquired somebody that actually fits perfectly.' I think that's what our history has been. 

"We know we have a good team. I talked to Logan and [Joe] about it. If we start the season tomorrow with this team, we have a very good hockey team. We didn't get 100 points by mistake last year, and as you build on that in having Evander and [Joe] back healthy, that makes us even better. But trust me, we will continue to explore anything that will make us better, if it's now, if it's next week, if it's early in the season or any time prior to the trade deadline. We have the assets and the [salary] cap space to be able to do that."

The door may be closed on Tavares, but there are three months until the season starts. There is time to make a deal, and the Sharks have a general manager not afraid to make one.

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