Philadelphia Flyers 2013-14 Year In Review: Steve Downie

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

The Flyers made an early-season trade for an old first-round draft pick of theirs, and he got off to a fast start. But is that overshadowed by a difficult second half of the season?

Steve Downie

Age: 27 (April 3, 1987)
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent

2013-14 Stats (Flyers only)

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
51 13:32 3 14 17
Corsi For % Corsi Rel % Quality of Comp. (TOI%) Zone Start % PDO
49.1% (6) -1.2 (6) 29.0% (5) 48.7% (8) 99.9% (7)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Flyers players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top eight defensemen or top 13 forwards.)

Most frequent forward lines

Linemates Goals For% Corsi For% OZ/DZ%
Matt Read, Sean Couturier 50% (+15 / -15) 51.6% 51.4%
Sean Couturier, Vincent Lecavalier 20.0% (+1 / -4) 37.9% 72.7%
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek 50.0% (+1 / -1) 51.1% 53.8%

Trying to fill the long-lasting void

Dan Cleary. Max Talbot. Tye McGinn. Michael Raffl.

The Flyers came into the season with a set of eight fairly-established top-9 forwards -- Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Vincent Lecavalier, Matt Read, and Sean Couturier. But through training camp and the opening month of the season, that ninth spot was just never settled.

All of the guys mentioned above got a whirl at it, in all sorts of different spots in the lineup -- on Sean Couturier's wing, on Claude Giroux's wing, somewhere next to Brayden Schenn -- but none of them took much advantage of it. (Michael Raffl eventually bolted it down, but that didn't happen till closer to mid-December.)

So after 11 games full of offensive futility and lineup changes, the Flyers finally made a move on the afternoon of Halloween, sending out their fourth-line center/winger and one of their penalty killers in Max Talbot and shipping him over to Colorado for their 2005 first-round pick, Steve Downie.

The trade was a little out of left field, but it instantly made sense: Downie, while not a burner or a guy who's ever lit up the scoreboard, was a guy who could bring some offense to the team -- certainly more than the departed Talbot could. He was a solid two-way player, and while the immediate plans for him weren't clear, he looked like the guy the Flyers had pegged to fill their top-9 forward dilemma.

Making the most of it

Downie's second go-round with the Flyers began about as poorly as one could possibly imagine -- his first game was the now-infamous 7-0 blowout beatdown loss to the Capitals, and he left that game and was diagnosed with a concussion and a broken orbital bone suffered in a second-period fight. Downie would manage to miss the Flyers' next four games as a result.

But after coming back in the lineup, Downie was slotted next to Sean Couturier and Matt Read on the Flyers' third line, which was the defensively-oriented, "shutdown" line of the Flyers' forward groups. And the way that line played in the six or so weeks that followed may have been the most impressive of any line the Flyers put together this season.

In his two-plus seasons in the NHL, Sean Couturier had already established himself as a successful defensive NHL center, matching up with the other team's best players whenever it was asked of him. And Matt Read had long been a successful two-way player in the league as well. But neither one had ever looked quite as dynamic across all 200 feet as they had in their time on a line together with Steve Downie in the first half of the season.

Downie's strong physical play and ability to win battles and clear out space for his linemates helped Couturier and Read add another dimension to their already-good two-way play. Night in and night out, the Read-Couturier-Downie line was the one that was getting the attention -- not just for their strong defensive play against the opponent's best players, but for scoring while doing so.

In the 19 games between November 12 and December 19, Downie put together 12 points in 19 games and had an even-strength shot attempt differential of 51.4% -- quite good, given what was asked of him and his line. It looked like the final top-niner dilemma had been solved.

The decline

Unfortunately, all good things eventually come to an end, and with Downie, the end came really, really quickly.

Downie missed two games in late December with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He returned on December 28 against Edmonton, and more or less from there moving forward, Downie's play just never was quite the same. It looked pretty evident just after the new year hit, and it became clear that Craig Berube felt so too on January 12 when Downie was healthy-scratched for a game against the Rangers.

He spent the next couple of weeks switching off between the fourth line and the press box, and by the time late January rolled around, it was evident that he had fallen out of the favor of Craig Berube:

It's not like the guys playing in his stead are making any sort of actual contributions. Chris VandeVelde is a fourth-line grinder and fringe NHLer. Jay Rosehill is dressed for his toughness and fists, which sure came in handy on Saturday while he was getting a stupid penalty for gently grazing a guy with his elbow after the play, all while Scott Hartnell and Luke Schenn were the ones doing the fighting as the Flyers faced three- and four-goal deficits.

Downie is one of the 12 best forwards on this roster. That isn't really up for debate. His being scratched for the two aforementioned guys leads me to think that Craig Berube and the Flyers believe that the Downie we saw in November and December is gone. It's sad to think that unless there's an injury in the top-9, he's probably doomed to spend the season's last two and a half months shuttling between the press box and the fourth line, getting about 10 minutes a game.

We were hoping that this was all just a phase, and that more time on ice would lead to more of the Downie that we saw in November and December. Alas, it didn't quite work out that way.

Downie would, in fact, end up back on the third line for a while after that. But it always seemed like something was off from there moving forward. In fact, it really only kept going downhill: Downie would suffer another head injury against St. Louis on March 22 when he ran into Patrik Berglund's shoulder on the game's opening shift. There were mixed messages from coach and player after that regarding whether or not Downie was ready to come back in.

And after Downie finally did make it back into the lineup -- on April 8 against Florida, possibly only as a result of Zac Rinaldo's four-game suspension -- he capped his season off with a truly awful game against Tampa, in which he committed a bad turnover that led to one goal and blew a coverage and let a guy sneak in front of him to get open for another. Downie didn't see the ice again, in the regular season or in any of the Flyers' seven playoff games.

We did end up getting an explanation, though ...

Injury concerns

Prior to Game 3 of the Flyers' series against the Rangers -- after he had played as recently as twelve days ago in Tampa -- the Flyers announced that Downie was out indefinitely, without elaborating. The Daily News' Frank Seravalli reported that he had been told that Downie was suffering from concussion-like symptoms ... which he suffered back in that fight with the Capitals in November.

Yes, six months had passed and Downie had played in almost fifty hockey games since then. I don't know how that works, either.

But anywho. Right after the season ended and the Flyers called off their laundry list of injuries, Downie was (unsurprisingly) one of the names mentioned, and the Flyers announced that he was scheduled to have surgery to improve his hearing, and some balance issues that came about as a result of that. We're left to wonder if those came as a result of Downie's fight in November, as Seravalli reported, or because of something else -- i.e. his collision with Berglund in March, or his mysterious "upper-body injury" in December that we never found out much about.

In any case, though, Downie already had a bit of a concussion history before this year, and it seems like a lot of that re-surfaced this season. Not a great place for him to be, and who knows what his status is as an NHL player in the future.

But if there is a future, it seems quite unlikely that it'll be here in Philadelphia.

Preseason expectations

We did not have any preseason expectations for Steve Downie because he, of course, was not with the team in the preseason. But here's what Travis wrote on the day the Flyers traded for him:

He's prone to going over the edge sometimes and is never going to light the scoreboard up, but he can play just about anywhere in the lineup and has solid two-way ability. He's not just a face puncher, contrary to what some might believe. He immediately becomes the Flyers leading scorer, tied with Vincent Lecavalier with seven points, because lolflyers.

At the very least, this frees up some salary room for the next few years. He's a touch more expensive in the short-term, but the Flyers will save money long-term and are probably getting the better player in the deal. At worst, Downie plays like crap, it's a marginal loss for the Flyers on the ice this year, and they can just cut those losses come the summer.

I'd say that all in all that as far as what we were expecting, the best case for Downie was that he would be a good top-9 piece that could slide in on pretty much any line and chip in good two-way play, and that the worst case was that he'd basically bring what Talbot would -- i.e. fourth-line-worthy production.

Verdict:

Alongside Couturier and Read, Downie was excellent for the first month of his Flyers tenure, making the trade look like a downright steal for Paul Holmgren and the Flyers. As time went on, though, Downie was less effective, for any number of reasons -- injuries, regression, you name it. The Flyers thought they were getting a top-9 player in Downie and by the end of his tenure here, when he was in the lineup, he was a fourth-liner.

Now, that doesn't mean the decision to trade for him was a bad idea. Max Talbot was a good guy and a good player to have on this team, but he was a center, a fourth-liner, and a penalty-killer. Exactly none of those were things that the Flyers were exactly short on, so sending him out for a guy who looked like a top-9 winger is fine with me every day.

The move has recently been panned by some in the Flyers media as a terrible trade for the Flyers, with Tim Panaccio over at CSN Philly even calling it one of the "worst" of Paul Holmgren's entire tenure as Flyers general manager(!). That's nonsense.

But it's safe to say we were hoping for a little more out of Steve Downie's second go-round with the Flyers. We didn't get it, and based on that fact and coupled with his injury concerns, he'll almost certainly be saying goodbye again this summer.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Steve Downie's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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