Sharks get ready to take calculated risks with Couture, and if lucky, Tavares

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The San Jose Sharks figure to be a fascinating study in salary cap management, whether they win the John Tavares sweepstakes or not.

So far, long-standing GM Doug Wilson has put in the work to clean up the few present-day mistakes in San Jose. His work in cleaning the cap of the Mikkel Boedker error while grabbing a few assets for Mike Hoffman was almost devilishly deft. Buying out Paul Martin amounted to “pulling off the Band-Aid.”

With those moves out of the way, the Sharks continue to look intriguing in the near-future, something The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz keys on (sub required) when discussing why San Jose ranks as a sensible potential destination for Tavares.

Locking up Logan Couture when the CBA allows it – which TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports is San Jose’s plan – fits into that bigger picture.

That potential eight-year extension, and almost certainly a lengthy commitment to John Tavares (if – a big if – the Sharks are lucky enough to land him), would bring a brewing question back to the forefront. Will the Sharks eventually wobble off of the tight rope with all of these risky, long-term deals? And if so, how soon?

Now, don’t get this wrong. Plenty of people would do exactly what Wilson is doing if they were in his shoes. Locking up your core pieces for the long term is part of the “cost of doing business.”

Still, it’s reasonable to worry a bit about when the Sharks might look like a team locked into to some problem contracts, not unlike their in-state rivals the Los Angeles Kings.

Consider the possible future:

Logan Couture: Unclear what the cap hit would be. Couture is 29, so he’d begin a potential eight-year extension at 30 years old.

John Tavares: For all we know, even Tavares isn’t sure yet where he’d go. At 27, he could have quite a few prime years remaining. Still, if he’s registering a cap hit in the $11-$12M per season range, any slippage could really hurt. If the Sharks land him, he might start slipping while other key players absolutely plummet.

Already official commitments

Evander Kane26: a seven-year deal that carries a $7M cap hit. Deal expires after 2024-25.

Brent Burns33: Entering second season of an eight-year contract, $8M cap hit. Expires after 2024-25.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 31: Beginning an eight-year extension that carries a $7M cap hit. Contract expires after 2025-26.

Martin Jones28: Beginning a six-year contract, $5.75M cap hit. Ends after 2023-24.

One who might leave soon

This isn’t to say the Sharks lack all discipline, as they might need to convince Joe Pavelski to keep things short-term.

Pavelski, 33, will see his $6M cap hit expire after 2018-19.

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Again, the Sharks don’t really have any contracts that look lousy today, now that they took care of mistakes in Boedker and Martin. It’s also easy to understand locking up many of those names, even if you’d ponder different routes in Wilson’s shoes.

There’s also no denying that the Sharks are in a strong position to add talent this summer, and in the near future. While they need to figure out what’s happening with Joe Thornton and sign RFA Tomas Hertl, there’s ample room to work with. Even if Tavares signs elsewhere, the Sharks could explore the market by landing someone like James van Riemsdyk or perhaps making a splashy trade (Erik Karlsson or Ryan O'Reilly, dare we wonder?).

All of that being said, problems could escalate in a hurry if aging curves bite the Sharks in bad way. Things could look shaky, particularly for already-30-plus-defensemen Burns and Vlasic, by 2020 or so.

It doesn’t help that every current contract features some sort of no-trade or no-movement clause, and one would guess that Couture and/or Tavares could ask for the same thing if they wanted to.

Maybe future pain will be worth present gains, and hey, maybe Wilson has even more tricks up his sleeves.

Things can go south quickly in professional sports, as even Jaromir Jagr couldn’t hold off Father Time forever, while Joe Thornton’s receiving a standing eight-count. The Sharks – and probably also John Tavares – must at least take these risks into account.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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