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2023-24 Player Review: Sean Couturier’s season was trying

Photo Credit: Heather Barry

Sean Couturier’s season was trying. Trying to return from almost two seasons off due to back injuries, two back surgeries and rehabbing from it. Trying to prove to both himself and his teammates that he wouldn’t miss a step and be worth every penny of the remaining seven years of his eight-year contract. And trying to prove his value to a notorious hardass coach who wouldn’t hesitate to lower the boom on Couturier if his play took a downward spiral, regardless of the “C” on his uniform or not.

Couturier hit the ground running to start the season. So much so some people speculated he was on a Selke Trophy pace or at worst a credible nomination. He was showing no sign of a lengthy layoff as he averaged over 19 minutes a game in eight of the first 10 games in October. There was some occasional rust with him handling the puck but it was anticipated that would come with time. November, December and the early part of January (just like the team itself) were strong for Couturier.

As January wore on, with Tortorella riding Couturier as much as he did earlier in the year, he hit a wall. Eight games that month he played over 20 minutes. Four of those eight over 22 minutes. Maybe his stamina was finally on the downswing. Perhaps his off-season training and preparation couldn’t prepare him for playing a full season coming off major surgeries. He never played close to 20 minutes again after the Jan. 23 6-3 loss to Tampa. And his minutes dropped drastically the rest of the way to at best fourth-line or third-line range, increasing somewhat near the disastrous eight-game losing streak and at season’s end. Of course there was the two-game healthy scratch controversy which seemed to pour more gasoline on an already growing concern. 

In terms of the basic statistics, Couturier almost mirrored his 2015-16 regular season where he scored 11 goals and 28 assists for 39 points in 63 games. This year he scored 11 goals with 27 helpers for 38 points in 74 points. He also averaged 17:49 of ice time.

The past season for Sean Couturier was probably his most challenging since the 2016-17 season. During that campaign he had 14 goals and 20 assists for 34 points in 66 games and seemed to be lost in the shuffle the longer the season went on. Although the two Flyers he played the most with that season five-on-five were Jakub Voracek (369:10 TOI with Couturier) and Travis Konecny (302:40) he also spend a chunk of time with Dale Wiese (285:13), Matt Read (218:49) and Nick Cousins (220:04).

In the latter half of the 2023-24 season most pointed to the fact Couturier was on a fourth line with Nic Deslauriers (54:58) and Olle Lycksell (57:27). So no wonder he couldn’t produce offensively. Yet the top three players he shared five-on-five time this season with were Konecny by a wide margin (507:30) followed by Tyson Foerster (347:01) and Owen Tippett (276:00). It’s wrong to suggest he wasn’t put in a position to succeed to begin the season. It was more a case of that production steadily dropping as the season progressed.

In terms of the basic analytics, Couturier’s time with Konecny and Tippett to begin the season seemed to pay off with surprising results early on. Yet the drop from the first line (which coincided with a jump in play from Morgan Frost and his move up the lineup and out of Torts’ dog house in January) appeared to send Couturier on a downward trend not just offensively but also in terms of his defensive play and coverage, a hallmark of his usually steady two-way play. According to his season game log (thanks ESPN), Couturier finished with a plus/minus of plus-1 on Feb. 6 against Florida. The next game he was on the plus side of that ledger? The Flyers’ 4-1 win over the Rangers on April 11, the 80th game of the season.

In terms of 5-on-5 play Couturier was less than stellar in terms of goals for percentage with a lack of goal touch and offensive production costing both him and the team. In 2019-20 that same 5-on-5 goals for percentage was almost 15 percent higher (61.80). Both the expected goals for percentage and Corsi for percentage were in the mid-fifties but with Couturier’s scoring scarcity the production just wasn’t there.

The longer the season went, the move Couturier found himself in no man’s land, playing with wingers such as Joel Farabee (194:22 TOI with Couturier) and Cam Atkinson (240:52). Both Farabee and Atkinson had arduous seasons with both names being discussed in possible off-season trades. In Atkinson’s case, a buyout isn’t out of the realm of possibility. So any kind of safety net or backup plan Couturier could have found with new linemates for producing goals was not happening, at least not this season.

Three Questions

Did they live up to expectations?

In terms of the entire season, Couturier would be the first to tell you (although Tortorella would be trying to butt in line) that 2023-24 was not what he expected. As strong as his first few months were, his second half left a hell of a lot to be desired. Of course nobody knew what to expect from him coming off the surgeries, but the drop off from the surprising start is concerning, especially given the length and cap hit his contract still has. Had he had a horrible first half but looked like a former Selke nominee the last 40 games, the cause for concern would probably be far less. But simply put, Couturier this past season did not meet or surpass expectations.

What can we expect from him next season?

Hopefully Couturier and all parties not named Couturier can come to some understanding prior to training camp starting. If he remains healthy, and simply is able to carry a slightly reduced workload (even if that includes 10 or so games off for rest or “load management”) there should be far more consistency and effectiveness in his play. I wouldn’t expect a 30-goal, 70-point season next year which would near his career highs, but I would be quite satisfied if a healthy Couturier approached or eclipsed both 20 goals and 50 points in 2024-25.

How do we grade his 2023-24 season?

Couturier had a rough year, made a little rougher by the brief but merited scratchings. All one can hope for is the last half of the season is something we won’t see from him until the end or later portion of his contract if at all.

Grade: C

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