I'm writing this on the off-chance that maybe somebody will read it. I'm an understandably frustrated Flyers fan who is looking to express a legitimate concern. I've watched every Flyers game in a season that has been filled with horribly irresponsible defensive play by our forwards (and defensemen). It has thus far been a completely underwhelming follow-up to a 2011-12 season that showed a lot to be excited about moving forward. This hockey season has seen my alcohol use, stress and blood pressure all see increases. I've broken multiple windows and drinking glasses over the incompetence of this hockey team. Thus, I'm looking for one of the more reliable hockey players on the team to play more hockey. After watching poor play in our zone night after night while Couturier spends too much time watching from the bench, I've decided to vent about it here.
It's no secret that Sean Couturier is a young player, still in the process of developing. I couldn't even pour him a glass of the whiskey I'm currently drinking without committing a misdemeanor. As a prospect, he was highly touted for his scoring ability. His play without the puck was just another nice thing to list in his scouting report. That defensive play, however, was the thing that gained him league-wide respect, and even Calder trophy consideration last season. He started a team-low 40% of his shifts in the offensive zone during the regular season, while playing most of those shifts against top competition. As the season went on, and especially during the playoffs, he ate up monster amounts of time on the PK as part of a unit that would finish 7th in the NHL. He played 77 games, and spend 14 minutes in the penalty box. And despite +/- being a somewhat unreliable stat, he was second on the team with a +18. These things are not typical of 19 year old NHLers. Something like this (http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/8743982/riley-sheahan-detroit-red-wings-prospect-pleads-guilty-drunken-driving) would have been more likely. This kid was impressive enough that when talk emerged of a potential straight-up trade for Bobby Ryan, Flyers fans (and maybe GMs) were saying no.
After a rookie year that displayed such incredible potential, it would only be expected that playing time would help to continue his development. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case, and I believe it has been to the team's detriment.
At this point, based on the Flyers record and the way they look when they play hockey, they will probably not be a playoff team. They have personnel problems, systematical problems, and sometimes incomprehensible problems where they decide to stop playing hockey for large chunks of time during hockey games. The season is now at the point where we must begin to consider what is best for the team both now and in the future. What's best for this team now, and in the future, is for Sean Couturier to play more than 8 minutes and 10 seconds during a game. This is a player who A) Is one of the seemingly few forwards who can be counted on to be reliable on our side of the ice, B) needs to play more than 8 minutes a night to develop as a player, and C) needs to play with people who aren't named Zac Rinaldo or Ruslan Fedotenko in order to more successfully develop as a player.
I spent all of last year praising Peter Laviolette and Paul Holmgren for the decision to keep Couturier in the NHL for more than 5 games, thus burning a year of his Entry Level Contract. This decision implies that Couturiers value to the team last year, as a 19 year old, was enough to risk having him cost about 3 mil/year more a year sooner. They made the correct decision, and Couturier was a vitally important player who keyed a great playoff series win.
It is for this same reason, however, that I am troubled by Couturiers recent decrease in playing time. With a young team that still has several key players on ELCs, it is always reasonable to consider the future of the team. After next season, some people need contract extensions. Their names are Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, and Couturier. This is going to cost a little bit of money. The recent downward trends in playing time for Couturier are troubling when considering the future. Are the Flyers going to spend a lot of money on someone who has a lot of interest around the league, and also isn't playing a lot? The recent trends in playing time are leading fans to think that the 20 year old stud who was untouchable last summer might now be someone who could be moved in a trade. Trading a guy like Couturier would be a mistake that the Flyers would regret for probably decades to come, and I'd prefer not to see it happen.
We saw how important this player was last year, and by looking close enough, can still see how valuable he remains this year. After reading about advanced statistics for a year or two, especially the always-brilliant work of BSHs Eric Tulsky, it has become clear that they are one of the most reliable indicators of hockey-success-related things. Metrics last season would have told me to bet my life savings on the LA Kings going into the playoffs. I didn't, and now I still drive a piece of sh*t 96' Honda to my sh*t job every day. They are not the be-all-end-all, but they are certainly worth considering.
I've been listening to WIP, 97.5, CSN, and various other media outlets of poor hockey knowledge all season long. And I've heard a lot of things like 'Couturier needs to start scoring goals' or 'Something something something Sophomore slump something something' or 'We need to traid are goal1e for sum1 that nose how to move side2side faster then a tortise1!1!'. As mentioned earlier, advanced stats show that while playing alongside lesser linemates and against tougher competition, Couturier is arguably playing better than he did last year. Here are the facts...
-The Flyers have managed a positive shot differential with Couturier on the ice
-Couturier has been starting a large majority of his shifts in the defensive zone
-Couturier has been playing against some of the toughest competition we have faced
-Couturier still has managed a positive Corsi rating relative to the Flyers while he is on the bench
These numbers suggest that compared to last season, the 'slumping' Couturier has driven possession at a higher rate this season, while playing against tougher competition. Last season, the Flyers averaged 3.4 less shot attempts per game with Couturier on the ice. This season, they are averaging 1.5 more shots per 60 with him on the ice.
I'm growing increasingly tired of hearing that Couturier is having a 'sophomore slump'. Last season, Couturier impressed the NHL not by lighting up the scoreboard, but by playing reliable, two-sided hockey. This season, he has done more of the same, but better. The narrative that he has taken a step backwards this season couldn't be farther from the truth. This is a developing player who has continued to develop, but needs more room to do so.
Last season Peter Laviolette made it known that he was 'unfamiliar with the Fenwick and Corsi statistical powers'. Maybe it's time for him to familiarize himself. Because its time to see more of Sean Couturier on the ice.