Imagine being outside on a warm summer afternoon. The sun is out and it’s a nice day, but off in the distance the dark clouds crack the horizon. You know there is a storm coming but you’re enjoying the nice weather while you still can. The Philadelphia Flyers are in a very similar situation with their star center Sean Couturier. They are enjoying the Selke-caliber performances on a nightly basis but there is something daunting looming and that is a contract extension.
If you’re a frequent Brotherly Puck reader, you know I have seemingly had it out for Sean Couturier for much of the past year. From suggesting trading him for Jack Eichel, to not re-signing him all together next summer, but those were just ways to avoid paying Sean Couturier when his contract is up in the summer of 2022. Couturier has been on one of the best value contracts in the league that he signed back in 2016 at a measly $4.3 million cap hit. Since he signed that deal, he rose through the ranks and became the Flyers’ top center, posted two 30+ goal, 76-point seasons, and won a Selke Trophy in 2020. With his accolades building, he will surely demand a contract that matches his value to the team, which could be a massive upgrade.
Naturally, when looking for a place to start Couturier’s negotiations, you’ll look to past Selke Trophy winners. While it’s a good place to start, it also may not be super accurate. Ryan O’Reilly, the 2019 winner is currently on a seven-year, $52.5 million ($7.5 aav) deal that he signed in the summer of 2016. 2018’s winner Anze Kopitar is on a eight-year, $80 million ($10 aav) that he signed in 2016. And 2017’s Patrice Bergeron is on an eight-year, $55 million ($6.875 aav) that he signed in july 2013 that kicked in starting during the 2014-15 campaign.
That’s a pretty wide range of numbers that were all signed at least six years before Sean Couturier’s deal is up. Not only has the landscape of contracts in general changed mightily in the past few seasons, the continuation of the flat salary cap will still be effecting the league in 2022 and will put a limit on the cash they could offer the then-29-year-old Couturier. The excuse of the flat cap may apply to some mid-tier and lower level players, but it is going to be hard to convince your number one center to take a big monetary hit, especially when he’s been underpaid for years.
It’s safe to say Couturier will probably look for a seven to eight year deal. He’s at the pinnacle of his career and will look to cash in on a pretty standard long-term contract. The monetary value of the deal is the tricky part.
The downsides of Couturier signing a long-term, big money deal are rather worrisome. Plain and simple, big money deals rarely hold up over the course of their length. Sure, Couts may be in the peak of his career right now and deserve a huge price tag, but does a 34-year-old Couturier in 2025? Kevin Hayes and his $7.1 million cap hit are a prime example. Does Hayes live up to that deal now? Yes. Does this deal look great when it comes to an end in 2026 when he’s in his mid-30’s? Probably not.
As far as other top centers in the league go, 17 are currently making $8-12 million a season. Another six are currently making $7-8 million. Couturier definitely falls within the top 23 centers in the league. If you want those players spelled out for you, in order- McDavid, Matthews, Tavares, Toews, Eichel, Kopitar, Seguin, Malkin, Backstrom, Crosby, Stamkos, Draisaitl, Aho, Getzlaf, Johansen, Duchene, Couture, Kuznetsov, O’Reilly, Krejci, Hischier, Hayes and Barzal.
The question facing Fletcher and the Flyers boils down to is what direction is the franchise going and how big of a game changer do you think this guy is? This offseason will paint a telling picture when it comes to the Flyers’ immediate future. If sweeping changes for whatever reason don’t occur or big names aren’t added and the team remains stuck in neutral, the desire to re-sign Couturier doesn’t make much sense. Though, if the defense is overhauled and a top six forward or two are added to the mix and a serious bid is placed to turn this team from a listless disaster to a serious Cup contender, throwing some big money at Couturier to go all in for a few years could very well be worth it.
Expect Couturier’s deal to base line around seven to eight years at eight to nine million dollars. It’ll be the kind of contract that is handed out to the best of the best and the pressure will be on Couturier to prove he still fits in that category. And if they’re really lucky, his play won’t plummet the second the ink dries.
Do the Flyers re-sign Sean Couturier? There’s a pretty good chance they do. He’s still an incredibly effective player, but the clock is ticking. He’s closing in on 700 NHL games, which he’ll fall just shy of this season, and barring an injury, will have 800 games in his sights by the time he sits down for contract negotiations next offseason. It’s going to be a gamble to sign an aging player to a massive contract, but it’s a gamble Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers are just going to have to take.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: philadelphia.cbslocal.com