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Couture physically and mentally slow to recover from Sharks' playoff collapse

TORONTO - Logan Couture doesn't have to look far to be reminded of the San Jose Sharks' playoff collapse against the Los Angeles Kings.

His surgically repaired right hand still has scars from last month's surgery, and the recovery has been slow. He expects the hand, injured in a fight with Kings centre Mike Richards, to be OK by training camp.

And Couture works out with Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, who was set to have his day with the Stanley Cup on Friday. Doughty doesn't chirp his good friend, but that doesn't stop Couture from thinking about the painful first-round series loss.

"I think every time I see hockey on TV or read about it in the paper," he said.

The Sharks were in command of the series, up three games to none. But they proceeded to become the just the fourth team in NHL history to blow that lead. The Kings won the Cup, and the Sharks were left to wonder what went wrong.

Couture doesn't ponder what he and his teammates could've done differently. The thoughts are more simple than that.

"I just think about how much it hurts," he said Thursday night at Dominic Moore's Smashfest charity event. "The feelings aren't going to go away — probably never. It's just something that sticks with you for a long time."

In time, Couture thinks the collapse should serve as motivation for the Sharks who remain. For now, at least, that includes captain Joe Thornton and veteran winger Patrick Marleau, whose new contracts start next season and include full no-move clauses.

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has talked about rebuilding and going younger. In the process the Sharks traded 38-year-old defenceman Dan Boyle's free-agent rights, traded 34-year-old defenceman Brad Stuart and bought out 33-year-old winger Marty Havlat.

In free agency, the Sharks signed enforcer John Scott in an effort to "act as a deterrent and help keep teams and opposing players honest," according to Wilson. The vast majority of the roster looks similar to the one that finished the playoffs, though San Jose hopes to have defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic back after his injury and will move Brent Burns back to the blue-line.

"We knew something was going to happen. Every year changes happen," Couture said. "We'll see what happens going forward. Some things may happen, some things may not, so we'll see."

One thing that may happen in the not-too-distant future is Couture becoming the captain. The Sharks took the "C" off Marleau four years ago and he has continued to play and produce, so that concept isn't far-fetched for Thornton, as well.

Couture, who served as captain of the OHL's Ottawa 67's, has had conversations with Wilson this summer but said he had not been specifically asked to increase his leadership role.

"I think it's just expected," the 25-year-old Guelph, Ont., native said. "I think each year you play more with an organization you're expected to take on more of that role. Those are kind of the things that don't have to be said."

Couture will begin his new US$30-million, five-year contract this season and hopes that his tenure in San Jose is a long one. With that, he anticipates a larger role in the locker-room and on the ice.

"I think I learned a lot from the leaders on our team in San Jose the last couple of years and taking small things from them and try to be a leader as much as I can with our team with our young guys," Couture said. "We've got a lot of leaders on that team, a lot of veteran players, so I think we'll be fine."

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