Sean Couturier underwent another back surgery Thursday, the Philadelphia Flyers announced Saturday, and it’s fair to wonder if his career is in jeopardy.
It’s his second back surgery in nearly nine months. The Flyers say his “expected recovery time” is three to four months.
They also said last month that doctors said he would not need a second surgery.
In other words, it’s a guessing game.
No one really knows when he will return. No one really knows if he will be effective again or if he’ll be a shell of his former self, a one-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward.
With backs, no one really knows.
The latest surgery was performed by Dr. Andrew Dossett at the Carroll Clinic in Dallas.
GM Chuck Fletcher said the doctor was “confident this will really help Sean.” He also said he believed Couturier would return later this season and help the club.
After an epidural wore off, Couturier’s pain returned and he had nerve irritation, Fletcher said, outlining why the second surgery was needed.
The injury is is the same spot where the center had his Feb. 11 surgery, per Fletcher.
“After speaking with a few different specialists, it was decided to go back in and repair,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said there were “periods when it felt better,” but that the back irritation has “really been there since June and July. … It just wasn’t right for where it should be in the return-to-play process.”
He said the “one positive” is that there is “finally more clarity” to the situation, and hopefully Couturier can return to play late this season.
“These surgeries are not 100 percent,” Fletcher said of Couturier’s first operation. “Unfortunately, there’s a 10 percent chance that they don’t. Was he one of the 10 percent initially? Was there something that exacerbated things in the summer? I don’t know.”
Fletcher called it a “frustrating process … but I think we’re going to get Sean to a better place.”
Had been optimistic
But coach John Tortorella gave a grim update two days ago.
Couturier played just 29 games last season because of his back issues. Kevin Hayes, who has 10 points in seven games, has replaced him as the top-line center this year.
Without Couturier, the Flyers are obviously much weaker down the middle.
In the last game, Hayes, Scott Laughton, Lukas Sedlak, and Morgan Frost were the centers. Laughton, who has played well, seems more effective as a left winger.
“We’re still building … I think right now we’ll probably let things play out and see how we do,” Fletcher said, noting that several young players were in the lineup. “It’s not easy replacing a Sean Couturier. And again, the hope is that in three or four months he’ll be back. We’ll just have to take it game by game and week by week.”
Atkinson, JVR updates
The Philadelphia Flyers also announced that left winger James van Riemsdyk underwent surgery on his left index finger Friday and will be sidelined for about six weeks.
Van Riemsdyk, 33, had five points over six games.
As for right winger Cam Atkinson (upper-body injury), Fletcher said he has made “some progress,” but has gone from day to day to week to week. “I can’t even speculate on that,” said Fletcher when asked if Atkinson might need surgery.
Atkinson, 33, has not played this season.
Through all the injuries, the Flyers are 5-2 and atop the Metro Division.
“This group has been resilient so far this year,” Fletcher said. “Torts has done a great job bringing some accountability. I know the players are focused in what they’re doing and buying in.”