SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Having missed out on the biggest prize on the free-agent market, the San Jose Sharks are now content to wait and use their ample salary cap space to acquire a difference maker in a trade if one becomes available.
The free agency period opened Sunday with star center John Tavares turning down an offer from San Jose to sign a $77 million, seven-year deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Sharks also finalized a $64 million, eight-year extension with Logan Couture but saw their hopes of teaming him and Tavares as a formidable pair of top two centers thwarted.
Wilson said he viewed Tavares as the only difference maker on the open market in free agency and didn’t feel like he missed out on getting another player while negotiating with Tavares.
“It didn’t really get in the way of anything else we were looking at because our commitment was to take this swing at him, and we knew that if we didn’t get him and we couldn’t match up to his childhood dream of him going home, we understand that,” Wilson said. “But we’re still positioned, just like we’ve always been historically to add players through trade.”
The Sharks still have approximately $20 million in salary cap space, some of which will be used to re-sign Joe Thornton in a deal that should be completed quickly, according to Wilson. San Jose also needs to sign restricted free agent forwards Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney but will have money to acquire other players if they become available on the trade market.
Wilson sees no reason to rush into any moves with a core in place that also includes high-scoring forwards Evander Kane and Joe Pavelski, defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns, as well as goaltender Martin Jones.
“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. I mean we had 100 points last year without Jumbo and actually without Kaner 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, and that’s what we did. But do we feel like we lost out on anything? No, not really.”
Keeping Couture was much easier than luring away Tavares since he never had any desire to leave the franchise he initially joined as a first-round pick in 2007.
Couture was San Jose’s most dependable center last season, often matching up against the opponent’s top line and providing plenty of offense of his own from the second line. Couture had a career-high 34 goals last year and was a major part of the power play and penalty killing units.
“Everyone loves playing in San Jose,” Couture said. “I don’t just say that because I play there. You ask around the league and a lot of guys have heard all the great things about playing in San Jose and playing for the Sharks. I think that speaks volumes of why these big-name free agents have the Sharks on their list, because of the great things they hear about the organization, and there’s much about the Sharks that makes it very difficult to want to leave. So I’ve wanted to stay and I’m very happy.”
The 29-year-old has 213 goals and 224 assists in 582 career games. He also has been a postseason standout, leading the NHL with 30 points in 2016 when he helped San Jose reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history before losing to Pittsburgh in six games.
Couture has 34 goals and 47 assists in 96 career playoff games, ranking in the top 10 in the NHL in playoff goals and points since making his postseason debut in 2010.
He feels the pieces are in place for more postseason runs, even without Tavares on board.
“Our team’s goal is to win right now,” he said. “It’s not to wait a few years. We want to go out. We want to win. Obviously the goal going into next year is to win the Stanley Cup. That’s many teams goal. I’m sure Doug has many things he has going on but obviously that’s not my job.