Sean Couturier
There will be plenty more gap-tooth smiles for Sean Couturier in Orange and Black after the center signed an eight-year extension Thursday that will last until 2030. (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Sean Couturier Signs 8-Year, $62 Million Extension With Flyers

With Travis Sanheim’s new contract signed, sealed, and delivered, and a cheap flier thrown to Derick Brassard, Chuck Fletcher’s work for summer 2021 is likely done. It’s been a busy offseason in Philadelphia; key veterans, former top prospects, and several high draft picks shipped out in order to shake-up the roster and dressing room following a disappointing 2021 campaign. But the Flyers didn’t stay idle for long. Instead, Fletcher looked to the future and ensured one key member will be sticking around for a long time. Just hours after the Carolina Hurricanes signed star forward Andrei Svechnikov to an 8-year, $62 million extension, the Flyers inked Sean Couturier, a star of their own, to the same contract.

Sean Couturier, one of hockey’s best two-way forwards and Selke Trophy winner in 2019-20, is staying with the team that drafted him for eight more seasons (technically nine, since his current deal doesn’t expire until the end of the 2021-22 season.) So just how good is Couturier, was this deal worth it, and what does it mean for the Flyers moving forward?

Sean Couturier, The Player

Couturier’s defensive acumen has basically never been questioned since he arrived in the NHL just a few months after being selected 8th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft. Even as a young player, Couturier was tasked with playing shutdown minutes and generally didn’t have the world’s greatest linemates. When Couturier signed his last contract; a 6-year, $26 million pact in July 2015, he was regarded as merely a good player across the hockey landscape. The analytics community saw Couturier’s heavy dose of defensive zone starts and strong underlying numbers in the first two years of his previous extension and claimed his deal a bargain. But some traditional fans scoffed at the former top-ten pick’s inability to reach the 40-point threshold.

Couturier’s true breakout season came in 2017-18. He didn’t merely finally surpass 40 points that year; he broke right through the glass ceiling offensively. Claude Giroux’s move to left wing that season both allowed Couturier to become the team’s first line center and play consistently with Giroux, the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon, consistently for the first time. The result? A still career-high 76 points, plus a team-leading nine points in five playoff games (two of which he played on a torn MCL). It culminated in a second-place finish in voting for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defensive forward.

That season completely changed Couturier’s reputation from “very good defensive middle-sixer” to “elite first-line center.” And any doubts Couturier’s watershed year was a fluke or merely the product of playing with Giroux were erased the following year. Couturier’s underlying numbers were actually a bit better then in 2017-18; and after a slow start (likely due to reinjuring the knee he torn his MCL in during the offseason), Couturier finished with 76 points and a career-high 33 goals. 2019-20 was more of the same; Couturier scored 59 points in 69 games (a 70-point pace over 82 games) and was finally recognized for his defensive abilities by taking home the Selke Trophy.

Like most Flyers, Couturier had to battle through quite a bit of adversity in 2020-21. Couturier suffered a Costochondral separation seconds into Philadelphia’s second game of the season, then watched the team deal with a COVID outbreak that started literally the day he returned from injury. And he suffered a hip injury in March that saw him miss one game and hampered his abilities moving forward.

Yet when the dust settled, Couturier’s most recent season didn’t look out of place with any of the previous three. Despite missing eleven games, Couturier finished just two points back of the team lead, scoring at a 75-point pace. For the ninth time in ten seasons, Couturier received votes for the Selke. And he even finished a career-high 19th in voting for the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

Dollars and Sense: Is Couturier’s Contract A Good One?

Of course, just because Couturier isn’t an elite talent doesn’t necessarily mean his contract is a good one; there are plenty of good to great players making too much money. And with the NHL’s salary cap staying flat for a third straight season and set to only inch its way up in the next few years, avoiding bad contracts is more important than ever. So is Couturier’s worth the contract Chuck Fletcher signed him to?

There are legitimate risks to this contract, as there are to any. First, Couturier is 28, meaning he’ll be 29 when this deal begins and 37 when it ends. There’s a pretty good chance Couturier declines quite a bit over the last two-three years of this contract, likely rendering it an overpay even if/when the cap starts rising at its pre-pandemic rate again. While Couturier only missed two games between the 2017-18 and 2019-20 seasons, he missed 35 games over the prior two regular seasons (2016-17 and 2015-16) and has suffered an injury during each of his last three playoff runs, including reinjuring the same knee that he tore his MCL in during the 2018 run in 2020.

That being said, max-term contracts are basically a given for players of Couturier’s caliber. The Flyers can certainly live with a potential decline at the end of the deal if Couturier has another half decade or so of elite play left in the tank. And frankly, the deal’s $7.75 million cap hit is an absolute steal. Don’t believe me? Couturier’s deal takes up roughly 9.5% of the Flyers cap space. Let’s look up some other top-notch two-way forces and see how their current deals compare.

PlayerContract (Signing Date)Percentage of Cap When Signed2021 Cap Hit (Approx.)
Patrice Bergeron8 Years, $6.875 Mil. AAV (7/12/13)10.69%$8,712,350
Ryan O’Reilly7 Years, $7.5 Mil. AAV (7/3/15)10.5%$8,557,500
Anze Kopitar8 Years, $10 Mil. AAV (1/16/16)14.01%$11,418,150
Jonathan Toews8 Years, $10.5 Mil. AAV (7/9/14)15.22%$12,404,300
Mark Stone8 Years, $9.5 Mil. AAV (3/8/19)11.95%$9,739,250

As you can see, Couturier’s deal comes in much lower than any of these former Selke winners (and Stone, a finalist for the award in 2021, which he’d probably have won by now if he played center) by both raw dollars and percentage of the cap. Sure, you could find reasons to argue each individual might’ve been better than Couturier on their respective signing dates. But there’s no doubt he belongs in this tier of players after his last four seasons.

Of course, dollars and term aren’t the only thing a player is looking for when they sign a contract. Couturier’s deal comes with a full no-move clause for the first seven years and a limited no-trade clause for the 2029-30(!) season. And it sounds like Couturier was more than ok with taking a bit of a hometown discount. Perhaps that makes this deal more of a win-win considering it sounds like both sides got what they want.

What This Deal Means For The Flyers’ Future Plans

After the nightmare that was last season, Couturier’s future seemed set to mirror the Flyers future plans. After all, signing a player to an eight-year contract knowing the last two-three years might not be pretty only makes sense if you have a serious chance of winning in the first five-six seasons. And from Couturier’s perspective, there would be little point in spending the vast majority (if not all) of the rest of his career with a non-competitive team. And he certainly wouldn’t take any type of a sweetheart deal to do so.

Instead, Couturier’s deal shows both he and the Flyers expect to win a lot – right here, right now. That doesn’t mean fans need to start planning the parade route for June 2022 at once. But it does show the Flyers are determined on righting the ship after last season’s meltdown. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind the Flyers had a flawed mix in 2020-21, even if issues out of their control (namely the pandemic) played a part in torpedoing the season. As Fletcher said today, “If (Couturier) had left, it would have changed the direction of our franchise.” In other words, the choice was either begin a rebuild and usher their best player out the door, or commit to him and the organization that significant short-term success is in the cards. The Flyers chose the latter option.

One player who figures be a part of that success (if it comes to fruition, of course) is Claude Giroux; another 2022 UFA-to-be. With Couturier’s contract firmly pushing down the “win now” pedal, signing the 34-year old captain seems like a logical next move. But that won’t be the case, at least not for a while. Fletcher said that he has talked with Giroux and his agent Pat Brisson about a new deal. But they won’t be re-opening negotiations until the 2021-22 season concludes. Perhaps that’s not optimal, but it would be extremely surprising to see Giroux leave with the team’s commitment to winning as dedicated as its been since the early years of his career.

Hockey season is almost here, which it means it season preview time! And who better to start with than Couturier and the Flyers?

While Giroux is the face of the Flyers franchise, a potential Hockey Hall of Famer, and still a very productive player, to my eyes, most of the fanbase’s, and officially Fletcher’s, “(Sean) Couturier’s our best hockey player.” There was basically no path to the Flyers becoming hockey’s best team for the first time since 1975 anytime soon that didn’t involve Couturier. Nobody knows for sure if Sean Couturier will be part of the path that brings the franchise back to championship glory. The good news? We’ll get to find out.

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Salary Cap Information via CapFriendly; Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference