The Flyers entered the offseason with a gaping hole at the second-line center position. The reason may be because their top-line center simply can’t play 25 minutes a night.
For the last two seasons, the Flyers offense has centered around Sean Couturier, who led the team in goals last season with 33, following up a 31-goal season the year prior. In both seasons, Couturier has finished with 76 points, tying a career high.
The last two seasons have been an offensive awakening for Couturier, who was always a defensively responsible player that just couldn’t seem to bring all of the offensive potential together. Not anymore. With two 30-goal, 70-point seasons under his belt in back-to-back years, Couturier is now established as one of the top centers in the NHL at just 26...sort of.
Recently NHL Network listed their Top 20 centers entering the 2019-20 season. Couturier’s name was absent, and it drew the ire of Flyers fans. Take the lack of inclusion for what it’s worth, but Couturier’s value to his own team can’t be understated.
There are several candidates for the Flyers most valuable player, especially as you head into this upcoming season. You can easily identify three top candidates that give Couturier competition.
It obviously starts in goal with Carter Hart when it comes to team MVP competitors. You need to have solid goaltending to be a contending team, but more than that, you need stability in net. The Flyers learned that lesson the hard way last season, cycling through eight netminders throughout the season.
With Hart preparing to begin his first season as the starting netminder from day one, his presence on the ice is absolutely needed.
The next competitor in line is a player who is so valuable, his contract negotiations are highly profiled. Ivan Provorov is the backbone of the back end for the Flyers, the minutes eater who can be the most consistent player on the ice at times despite his young age.
Provorov did not have the best season in 2018-19, there’s no question about it. But the glimpses seen from the blue liner as a teenager during his rookie and sophomore seasons showed the value there. If Provorov were to be lost for any time, the blue line may crumble to pieces.
Finally, there is one of Couturier’s linemates that finishes off the team MVP talk. Claude Giroux has been a mainstay for the Flyers for the last decade. He continues to be a productive forward offensively, a capable player in other areas and a team leader. The one thing that has eluded him during his time at the head of the leadership group has been playoff success.
That said, if Giroux were ever to miss extensive time, good luck replacing that kind of production.
Back to Couturier though, who is the leader at the top when it comes to valuable players. Simply put, where else are you going to find a player who brings a style that has made successes out of Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar? Couturier’s value is not just in offensive numbers, but 200-foot play and the presence he has on the ice.
He’s emerged into a leader, serving as an alternate captain last season. The offense has finally come around. If his career year with 31 goals and 76 points in 2017-18 was a fluke, Couturier bashed the thought with his follow-up performance -- 33 goals and 76 points. His defense remains solid and consistent.
What makes Couturier the Flyers most valuable player is the simple question of how you replace someone like that when they cannot play due to injury. If you were to lose the player for any period of time, especially extensive time, would it be a dagger to your season?
In the Flyers case, losing Couturier would be detrimental to their upcoming season.
There is a lot riding on the results this season and Couturier certainly has to be at the forefront. After two successful offensive seasons, it’s no longer a question, but an expectation that he’ll deliver.