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Has Logan Couture Joined the Ranks of NHL Elite?

San Jose Sharks Forward Now Among the NHL’s Highest Paid, but Does Pay Equal Performance?

Yahoo Contributor Network
Patrick Marleau Still Polarizing Enigma for San Jose Sharks Fans
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COMMENTARY | Long a top-six forward for the San Jose Sharks, Logan Couture was rewarded in July with a new five-year, $30 million contract extension, immediately confirming his status as a franchise cornerstone for years to come.

While Couture's salary signals his arrival in the NHL's echelon of the elite, does the jury of public opinion agree?

What is 'elite'?

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning started the elite debate a couple of years ago, and now it runs rampant across sports in bars, online forums and TV shows almost nightly. But, what is elite? Top-six forward on an NHL club is too easy. But top-six forward on the Canadian Olympic hockey team is too tough, though a definite step in the right direction.

For argument's sake, I will define NHL elite, for forwards, as the top 5 percent, or the top 18 in the league. I'm talking "elite" -- A-plus, not A or A-minus. At just 24 years of age, is Couture as elite as his salary might suggest?

Knack for putting the biscuit in the basket

Couture has a shooter's touch with the puck, and has 89 goals in 232 career games. He has twice been a 30-plus goal scorer, and if last season's lockout had not shortened the season, he surely would have made it three in a row. As it was, Couture's 21 tallies in 48 games was 10th in the league last year. Not Alex Ovechkin numbers, but easily tops on the Sharks. If Couture can crack the 40 plateau, the Sharks will have a hard-to-find commodity on the roster for years to come.

Punch in the power play

Couture's ability in the offensive zone has seen him become a fixture on the Sharks' power play, where he's delivered 26 scores the past three seasons. With the competitiveness of the NHL tight and playoff berths and seeding usually separated by the smallest of margins, it's critical for teams to capitalize on the man advantage when they get it. Couture does it better than anyone on the Sharks, and he is quickly closing in on the league's best.

Clutch

Couture has posted 18 game-winning goals in the last three seasons, and had 3 game-winners in last spring's 7 Sharks playoff victories. Couture doesn't just show up with a 2-goal lead in the third. He's the guy that produces the 2-goal lead. Sometimes statistics are misleading. In Couture's case, they're not.

Playoff payoff

Thus far in his career, Couture has consistently delivered come playoff time, something that cannot always be said for his teammates. In 49 playoff games, Couture has found the net 17 times and pitched in another 16 assists, and his five power-play tallies this spring led all in the playoffs. That's the good part; the bad part is his playoff-career minus-4 plus/minus rating, including a minus-6 this past postseason. A player can't be truly elite, much less get his name on the Stanley Cup, until he is as responsible defensively as he is offensively.

The verdict?

Not quite. Couture isn't in the clubhouse of the NHL's elite yet but just entering his fifth season, he's knocking at the door. The Sharks' financial commitment to Couture wasn't meant to reward him for being elite as much as locking him onto the roster when he becomes elite. A big contract brings big expectations, and Sharks fans are looking for Couture to continue his upward career trajectory.

@RayHartjen is a longtime rink rat who's been on a decades-long quest to get the stink of hockey gloves off his hands.

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