Since the first days as team community leader in 2008, I have been the pessimist. But optimism has been wrong every time: San Jose looks elite in the regular season but has yet to truly compete for even a conference title.
The reality is that I started off each season predicting at least a conference finals appearance. Last year was the first time the forecast was bleaker when the playoffs started.
But I have never been reluctant to point out the team's deficiencies. There are always people seeking to discredit what they disagree with (paying attention to the election?), but gone are those who would even argue that this team's best chances to win the Stanley Cup are not already in the rear-view mirror.
The reason to keep the core together was two-fold: San Jose possesses the talent to win it all, and the players they have will not bring enough of a return to throw that chance away.
Three defencemen and four of the top-six forwards are going to be over 30 at the end of the season. Fourteen contracts expire in the next 21 months, and only three go beyond the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.
If the Sharks decline to re-sign any of their veterans when their contracts expire, they will need three more top-six forwards and the two players that began last season as the top pair.
That is why it is time for a built-to-win-now team to start thinking about the future. That future is Logan Couture.
San Jose has other young players that can be the cornerstone of the team. Tomas Hertl is a 2012 first-round draft pick with star potential.
But being drafted in the top half of the first round does not always mean an ability to play at the highest level: Ty Wishart (26 career NHL games) in 2006 was drafted by the Sharks at No. 16, and before that was Steve Bernier in 2003.
In other words, top picks never have an impact on the NHL, and even players that do sometimes fizzle out. Any player that is the cornerstone of any rebuild that may be needed (more on this later in the week) must be a future stud under 30 years old.
Couture is San Jose's youngest impact player, and as its only All Star last season, arguably the best. He will still be a restricted free agent when his contract is up in 2014, making him a little easier to afford.
Any successful team must have a true No. 1 centre. Couture should be San Jose's for the rest of the decade.
That makes him the cornerstone...the rest of the team's foundation is profiled for the San Jose Sharks Examiner.
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