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What A Healthy Sean Couturier Would Mean For The Flyers

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Sean Couturier might hold the key to what kind of team the Philadelphia Flyers are in 2023-24. And that influence might come from being on the ice.

Couturier hasn’t played for what must seem like a lifetime to him. His last game was against Ottawa on Dec. 18, 2021. His 2021-22 season lasted 29 games. His 2022-23 season never got started.

Couturier has undergone two back surgeries — in February and October 2022. No athlete wants any kind of injury ever. For hockey players, back injuries are probably the last injury they want. The very fundamentals of hockey are highly stressful on a player’s back.

He returned to practice in March and was considered day-to-day. His goal was to play before last season ended.

But Couturier never played last season. He continued to work out. His next goal was returning this season.

“So far, so good,” Flyers general manager Daniel Briere said recently. “It seems to be very positive.

“Spoke to him last week. He was gung-ho. He seems to think that everything’s back to normal for him, which is exciting for him and for us.

“So at this point I expect him to be on the ice for training camp and be on the ice for Game 1 of the season.”

Couturier is unquestionably one of the Flyers’ leaders and their best player. He’s a two-way center, defensive-minded and conscientious. His offensive numbers are 180 goals, 280 assists, 460 points in 721 games. He’s also plus-82 over his 11 seasons.

And he earns hockey’s enviable badge of honor: He’s hard to play against.

Big Difference

A healthy Couturier will show the way for a Flyers team expected to trend youthful. A healthy Couturier will make the difference on the scoreboard, with his stellar defensive play and with his offensive contributions. He scored 31 goals in 2017-18 and 33 goals in 2018-19. He excels at penalty killing, an area the Flyers need help. Philadelphia was 26th in the league in penalty killing last season.

“I’m going into this offseason motivated and with a lot to prove coming into next year,” Couturier said.

He won the Selke Trophy in 2019-20 as the NHL’s best defensive forward. Having Couturier on the ice doesn’t make the Flyers a playoff team. But it pushes them closer to being a more competitive and challenging team.

“I’m not going to be saving this organization coming back,” Couturier said. 

“It’s important to do this rebuild the right way. What I’m saying is if you look at New York [Rangers] a couple years ago. They sent out that letter and you think it’s a big rebuild, three, four years and the next thing you know they’re in the playoffs the following year, two years later and they’ve been good since. Things can change quick in the NHL.”

Couturier liked what he saw about the new Flyers’ culture under coach John Tortorella. Unfortunately for Couturier, he watched last year’s team from the press box and not on the ice.

“I think we’ve definitely became a harder team to play against,” Couturier said. “Maybe we’re not seeing the results yet but if you look at the scores and how tight these games are, even playing against some top-end teams, we’re usually in the game ’til the end. It’s good. 

“We gotta take it to another level and maybe score a little more goals and be more of a difference.”

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