Reigning Selke Trophy Winner Sean Couturier took only two shifts and played just 45 seconds on Friday night in the Flyers’ second victory over the Penguins this week, and he left the game shortly after taking this hit into the boards from Pens forward Jared McCann:
This hit that Couturier took at the end of his last shift. Missed the rest of the first period. pic.twitter.com/vxVzsbWmNh— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) January 16, 2021
There was no update on Couturier’s status through the rest of the game, which certainly led to some concern over how injured the Flyers’ best forward (best player?) may be and how much time the team should be prepared to be without him. We got that news this afternoon, as the Flyers announced that Couturier will be out for a minimum of two weeks:
Injury update: Forward Sean Couturier will be out a minimum of two weeks with a Costochondral separation.— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 16, 2021
Now, if you’re like me, your thought process upon initially seeing that tweet may have been as follows.
First: “Well, this sucks, but that could have been a lot worse. Shoulder injuries, which that looked like it was, can lead to long absences, and while it’s definitely bad that the Flyers are going to be without their best forward for some number of games here, he’ll still be around for most of the season. Given how things look last night, this isn’t a terrible outcome.”
And then: “Wait, what the hell is a Costochondral separation? Let me go consult the internet.”
And then, upon reading that: “That sounds absolutely terrible! Wow!”
So, indeed. Sean Couturier has a rib injury that sounds extraordinarily painful and he’s going to miss at least two weeks to rehabilitate from that. If we take that timeline as optimistically as possible (which seems ambitious, but let’s go with it) then Couturier could be back on January 30 when the Flyers will be facing the Islanders in South Philly, after having missed six games — two against Buffalo, two in Boston, and two in New Jersey. Were he to be out for three weeks, he’d miss another four games. Four weeks? Three more games on top of those.
That’s not that many, but in a shortened season that takes place entirely against divisional opponents, every game matters even more than usual. So for the Flyers, the question turns to deciding the best option to replace Couturier. The team’s enviable forward depth has taken a huge hit here, and Alain Vigneault and co. are going to have to decide how to proceed.
Here are (in this humble writer’s opinion) the three most likely options in front of them, from least to most interesting:
- Bump the current centers up a spot and call up Connor Bunnaman from the taxi squad to play 4C: I mean, sure. Bunnaman’s a fine fourth-line center, but the downgrade from Scott Laughton to him takes that fourth line from “possibly the best in the league” to “above average”, to say nothing of the same effect it would have on the other lines.
- Move Claude Giroux over to center: This would be, essentially, tapping into the Flyers’ outstanding depth at the wing to address the short-term need at center. Whether Giroux would move up to the first line or whether he would stay with Joel Farabee while Kevin Hayes moves to that top line would be up to the coaching staff. The Flyers would still have solid enough depth throughout the lineup. The question here, of course, is how Giroux — who’s been a winger for three years now and hasn’t always been great at the pivot when called upon — would fare at center.
- Put Morgan Frost in the lineup and shake up the top-9 as such: It’s gotta be this, right? The Flyers are obviously not 100% in on Frost, given that he’s not in the all-healthy lineup. And I suppose there’s something to the idea that if you’re not convinced that a prospect is totally ready, you don’t put him in just because there’s an opening. But clearly they think he’s close enough, since he’s on the active roster, and while obviously there is no chance of replacing Sean Couturier with a 21-year old center who has 20 NHL games to his name, this is the option that has the highest ceiling. Part of why the Flyers haven’t given Frost that chance is almost certainly because the team doesn’t have a top-9 center spot available. It’s there now, and this seems like the slam-dunk option.
We’ll find out more between now and Monday night’s game against the Sabres. Here’s to a speedy recovery for Sean Couturier and to fewer Costochondrial separations in our lives.