Is Sean Couturier the Flyers Most Valuable Player?
Sean Couturier had a career year in 2017-18, from his 31 goals and 76 points in the regular season to his nine points in the six-game playoff series against Pittsburgh. Couturier played the final two games of the series with a torn MCL, starting off a lengthy offseason recovery.
Couturier was supposedly back to 100 percent health and ready to go when another injury two weeks ago on Aug. 10 sidelined him again.
GM Ron Hextall confirmed a report from late Tuesday night that Couturier did injure the same knee, though not the same injury, and would miss approximately four weeks. It will force Couturier to be limited at the start of training camp, beginning three weeks from Friday, but shouldn’t force him to miss any games in the regular season.
Still, it has brought his health into question again. Over the years, when Couturier has not been in the lineup, there is a significant drop in talent and the Flyers lose depth as a result, greatly altering the level of play on the ice. So does that make Couturier the Flyers most valuable player?
Before starting to answer the question, understand that the most valuable player term isn’t about offensive production that often gets a player recognized as an MVP candidate. Of course, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are going to be regarded as valuable players because of their contributions from an offensive standpoint.
From a defensive standpoint, Couturier has always been the Flyers leading forward and a valued part. With the added offense and promotion to top-line center last season, he’s an even more critical part of the lineup.
The news that Couturier had suffered another injury left some Flyers fans in a state of panic. There was certainly enough time for him to recover, but what if he’s not completely ready or capable when the season starts or what if he re-injures himself? A big reason there is such an uproar over Couturier is because he’s one of the few players in the Flyers core that has missed significant time.
Giroux has missed a total of 13 games in the last nine seasons. Voracek has missed 13 games in seven seasons as a Flyer. Simmonds has missed 18 games in seven seasons as a Flyer. Couturier has missed 42 games in seven seasons. You could add up the number of games Giroux, Voracek and Simmonds have combined to miss and nearly match Couturier’s total.
Couturier’s absence was always noticeable defensively. The Flyers managed to get their playoff series against Washington in 2016 to six games despite losing Couturier after Game 1 due to injury. That said, Games 2 and 3 were a defensive mess and Couturier’s presence was missed. The same could be said for Game 4 of the team’s series against Pittsburgh.
Couturier has always been viewed as the valuable presence defensively, but his offensive numbers were never quite there for him to be considered a superstar player. It wasn’t until last season’s first half -- Couturier scored 26 goals by the All-Star Game -- that really turned heads.
Even with an injury in last year’s playoffs, Couturier had a five-point game in the series-ending Game 6 loss on a torn MCL. He was clearly the team’s playoff MVP, even in a losing effort, and the offseason provided time for a recovery. As the 2018-19 season approached, the only question remaining for Couturier was if he could replicate the offensive success. Playing with the likes of Giroux and Travis Konecny, there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t.
But now Couturier has to prove he’s healthy when the season starts as well. The timetable for return is no reason to panic, even if it puts him back fully healthy after the preseason begins. Couturier is still on track to be ready for the regular season. But how ready? That is the big question.
For all of the offense that Giroux, Voracek, Konecny and company can provide, Couturier has been able to mold his game to be among the best defensive forwards in the game and still produce at a high clip. That shot his value to a new level. He was already a valuable piece to the core. If he’s among the offensive leaders as well, that makes him all the more valuable. So perhaps among the likes of Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds and other rising stars, Couturier is, in fact, the most valuable to the Flyers.
For now, there is still enough offseason remaining for Couturier to heal, get treatment and get back to 100 percent before the last week of the preseason and the regular season begin. If nothing else, that should be of comfort to Flyers fans. The most valuable piece to the Flyers lineup isn’t expected to miss any time in the regular season for now.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.