The 2019-20 season was another positive one for 28-year-old forward Sean Couturier as he posted his third consecutive 20+ goal season and walked away with his first Selke Trophy as the league’s top two-way forward. He remains the Flyers top center heading into the 2020-21 campaign, but there is a big question mark on the horizon for Couturier and that’s his impending unrestricted free agent status as his current deal is set to expire in the 2022 offseason. The Flyers are going to have a big choice to make, and it probably won’t be an easy one.
Why shouldn’t they re-sign their number one center Sean Couturier? Well it boils down to a deadly cocktail of age, injuries, and money. Couturier will be 30 years old when his current deal expires. In the modern day NHL, 30-year-old may as well be considered geriatric. Couple that with multiple knee injuries Couturier has suffered in the last few post-seasons. He originally sprained his MCL in April of 2018 when he collided with teammate Radko Gudas during a practice in the playoffs, then re-aggravated the injury during an offseason tournament right before the start of the 2018-19 season. The same knee was injured yet again during the 2020 playoffs during a collision with Islanders’ forward Matt Barzal.
Three injuries to the same knee in a relatively short amount of time is never good. Now, if there’s any benefit of the doubt for Couturier, it’s that he doesn’t really rely on his speed, but a slower player hindered by a bum knee in a league that is getting ever faster isn’t a great combination.
Money wise, Couturier is currently on one of the best value contracts in the league as he’s only clocking in at a $4.33 million cap hit from the deal he signed way back in the summer of 2015. The last three Selke winners alone are making $10 million (Anze Kopitar), $7.5 million (Ryan O’Reilly), and $6.8 million (Patrice Bergeron) but the big issues with those comparisons straight up is those deal were signed years ago in 2015, 2016, and 2013 respectively.
22 of the top centers around the league are making more than $7 million and 38 are making more than $6 million. If Couturier’s play doesn’t fall off between now and 2022 he could reasonably seek at bare minimum an $7 to $8 million price tag.
From a Flyers perspective, there isn’t much help on the horizon cap-wise. Travis Sanheim and Carter Hart need contracts next summer, and Couturier, Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Claude Giroux, as well as a flurry of prospects, who could develop and make the main roster within the next two years, all need contracts in 2022. During that time Jake Voracek, James Van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, and Shayne Gostisbehere are still under contract. Unless Seattle intervenes somehow, the big money contracts will more than likely all still be here. Partner all that with a flat salary cap that may or may not rise by then and all of a sudden things get very tight for the Flyers in the salary department.
Provided Sean Couturier doesn’t take any major steps back, An asking price of an eight-year, $8 million wouldn’t be an unreasonable starting point for him. But for a 30-year-old with multiple knee injuries who already has a decade of hard miles on his body, maybe the Flyers should think twice about locking Couts up long-term at a huge cap hit. We’ve already floated the idea of trading him while his value is at its peak to get a younger player that fits the core of the Flyers better.
Luckily, the Flyers have two more seasons before they have to make a decision on the fate of Couturier, and in that time can make on-the-fly assessments as to where he stands as a player. If there is a noticeable decline in his play, maybe trading him for assets could be the way to go. If the Flyers for some reason fail to be competitive between now and then, they could look to deal him as well. But if things continue on the course they are, that being Couturier producing 60-70 points a season and remaining one of the top two-way players in the game, it’ll be an incredibly hard concept to swallow to walk away from a player that is still producing. That being said, the team is currently getting an up-close and personal look at what signing an aging player to a massive contract looks like when things go wrong in James Van Riemsdyk, and they already have an older center locked up to a long-term, big money deal in Kevin Hayes.
Sean Couturier more than deserves a big pay raise for his play, but the Flyers should tread with caution before throwing boatloads of cash at him. Obviously the situation will become more and more clear as 2022 draws near, but for now, the Flyers should really consider not re-signing Sean Couturier, no matter how hard the concept of walking away sounds.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: phillyvoice.com