Couturier puts sophomore slump behind him

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Couturier puts sophomore slump behind him

This is a season of redemption for the Flyers.
 
For the team, the coaching staff and the general manager.
 
And yet, there is no escaping the fact that a number of players see it as a personal redemption for themselves.
 
Among them, 20-year-old center Sean Couturier, who was on the ice Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center during the Flyers' 4-3 shootout exhibition loss to the Capitals. Joel Rechlicz got the winner.
 
Couturier had two assists in the game, playing between Jason Akeson and Jake Voracek. That line scored two goals.
 
In 2011-12, Couturier was among the Calder Trophy nominees for Rookie of the Year with 13 goals, 27 points and a plus-18 rating in 77 games with 14 minutes of ice time a game. He was outstanding on the penalty kill that season.
 
Last year? The lockout-shortened season was a personal disaster.
 
“It was an up-and-down season,” Couturier said. “Not what I wanted. I wish it had been better. It’s behind me now. I’m just looking forward to a better season.”
 
He had just four goals and 15 points in 46 games but more importantly, his solid defensive play had vanished with a minus-8 rating while playing a hair under 16 minutes a night.
 
“A lot of times second-year players don’t have as good a year,” said Craig Berube, who coached the Flyers in Philadelphia while Peter Laviolette handled the split-squad in Toronto.
 
“The one thing I know with Coots is that he is an intelligent hockey player. He knows how to play the game. That is not going to go away. He looks pretty good this year, looks energized.”
 
What has to be better this season?
 
“I think my whole game,” Couturier said. “A little bit of everything. Last year, my defensive game kind of lacked at times. I got to be more constant offensively, as well, and produce more.
 
He put on a little weight -- almost eight pounds -- and you see it as he checked in at 208 pounds in training camp. The organization wanted him to bulk up over the summer. All rookies coming out of junior take a couple of years to “fill out” but it happens.
 
Berube feels Couturier is much better and the added weight has enhanced -- not hurt -- his game. He said his initial burst in the first 10 feet is better, much like the hot start that Claude Giroux has in his skates.
 
“The first 10 feet is where he needed to be quicker,” Berube said. “That’s where people like Jake Voracek get away from guys -- they get off, then they’re gone. That’s where he had to get quicker for me. Once he gets going, he’s fine. You pull away from people and create space for yourself."
 
Couturier is not the only player who gained needed weight. Defenseman Oliver Lauridsen gained a whopping 12 pounds to weigh in at 232. He trained with boxers to be more physical and a better fighter on the ice. Gaining muscle is important to young players.
 
“Last year, I played at about 200,” Couturier said. “As I get older, I want to get bigger and stronger. That’s one part of the game where guys are so strong on the puck. You want to get stronger and out-battle these guys.
 
“The organization wanted me to get bigger and stronger. I went home and tried to get bigger and stronger and I think I did a pretty good job. I feel good [on ice]. I feel stronger and my skating is more powerful, as well.”
 
Laviolette was pleased, too. He feels Couturier need to be physically stronger in his board play for one-on-one battles. Much of the drills in the first part of training camp practices every day focus just on that aspect -- one-on-one battles.
 
“What we do out there [is] designed to be part of what we do through the course of a game,” Laviolette previously said during training camp. “With that comes a lot of board work and battle play in the offensive zone. The first half of the sessions are up and down the ice and skating and skills.
 
“The second half is more geared to competitive nature. Guys getting into battles. Sean is stronger. That comes. When you first see someone at age 18-19 and then see them again at age 23, a whole progression takes place.”
 
That’s what is happening now with Couturier. He wants to turn this muscle into offensive point production, too.
 
“I have always been a two-way player no matter what I do,” he said. “It’s nothing new. I know I can produce offensively, go out and show what I can do.
 
“The last 15-20 games [last year] I felt I played better. I finished strong. This year, I want to build on that and keep pushing and improving.”
 
The big question in camp is who will play left wing on his line with Matt Read. It was a given that that job would have gone to Dan Cleary had he not backed out of a tryout and future contract with the Flyers and signed with Detroit.
 
Now it’s a wide-open competition with Tye McGinn, Michael Raffl and even Marcel Noebels.
 
“Obviously, I’d like to know who I am going to play with,” Couturier said. “It doesn’t really change my mindset. I just want to go out and compete hard. Try to get better.”
 
Would a grinder or a skill player best complement that line?
 
“I don’t know,” Couturier said. “Anybody they put there I will have to adapt to whatever style there is. Whatever they ask me to do. Whatever role I can do to help the team.”
 
Cleary, who is 34, was capable of playing both roles which is why the Flyers liked him. One thing seems certain: The opening will be filled with a younger player.
 
That player could be Scott Laughton, McGinn or Raffl.
 
“We have different guys here who can play different roles,” Couturier said. “We have a good group here. It doesn’t matter.”

End to End: Analyzing Brayden Schenn's contract

End to End: Analyzing Brayden Schenn's contract

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

Is Brayden Schenn's contract a good deal for the Flyers?

Dougherty
It's understandable why some portion of Flyers fans have responded to Schenn's contract extension with caution; the $5.125 million is a bit high for what he's done consistently. But we live in a salary cap world in which the cap is not rising at the rate we would like.

We have to consider that when analyzing contracts. As Sportsnet's Colton Praill eloquently opined about bridge contracts back on July 13, we've seen teams get burnt by bad contracts. Look at the Chicago Blackhawks, who have had to move players to fit under the cap.

Part of surviving the cap world is making smart bets on players, and that requires breaking down what they have done already but more importantly, what you believe they'll do in the future. And Ron Hextall has done a decent job of that in his tenure as GM.

A perfect example of that is Sean Couturier's contract. It was a higher cap hit than his offensive production warranted at the time, but a deal we would look back on as a steal.

Now, Schenn's development is nearly complete. It's a different situation, but the same idea. If Schenn is a 26-goal, 59-point player, his $5.125 million AAV is fair.

If there's another level we haven't seen from the 24-year-old, then this is a totally different conversation in a few years.

In the end, the Flyers are betting on Schenn being the player he was from Jan. 1, 2016, through the end of the season, and living in the cap world, it's a smart play.

Hall
The Flyers were going to re-sign Brayden Schenn, through an arbitrator or not.

And when it was all said and done, no matter if the average annual value was slightly lower or higher than the $5.125 million of Schenn’s new four-year contract, the Flyers were still going to be handcuffed by the cap.

So the Flyers avoided what can be a messy arbitration process by finding a happy medium with a strategic deal that behooves the Flyers long term, as Ron Hextall explained.

Now they have longer team control over Schenn, who could have signed for fewer years, upped his game and ballooned his payday as an unrestricted free agent.

Like Hextall said, top-six forwards entering their prime "are hard to find."

Yeah, the Flyers probably overpaid just a bit, but that’s the NHL market — it’s far from perfect.

Paone
There’s a reason these kinds of things are categorized as negotiations. There’s give and take involved. In the case of Brayden Schenn’s contract, there was probably a little more give than Ron Hextall and the Flyers would have liked. The numbers reported over the weekend tell us the Flyers didn’t necessarily want to go over the $5 million per year threshold with Schenn, even though the 24-year-old forward is coming off a career year of 26 goals and 33 assists.

But just because the Flyers went over their projected budget by going a smidge over $5 million doesn’t mean this is a terrible deal for the team. Not by any means. By now, you’ve probably read or heard Hextall use the term “market deal” when describing this contract. And that’s accurate because that’s the way the NHL is going these days. Yes, Schenn has had inconsistency issues over his first five seasons in Philadelphia. But young scorers don’t grow on trees. You have to pay to keep the ones you have. New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider and St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz are just a few examples. Schenn is just the latest. There will be more young scorers out there, flaws be damned, who will get paid sooner rather than later.

Sure, Schenn picked a great time last year — a contract year — to have a career season. And that pushed the Flyers to reward him. Now, it’s up to him to reward the Flyers’ faith.

NHL Notes: Red Wings sign Danny DeKeyser to 6-year contract

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NHL Notes: Red Wings sign Danny DeKeyser to 6-year contract

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings have avoided arbitration and signed defenseman Danny DeKeyser to a $30 million, six-year contract.

DeKeyser will count $5 million against the salary cap throughout the length of the deal. Agent Don Meehan confirmed the terms of the contract Tuesday, including modified no-trade protection beginning in the 2017-18 season.

The restricted free agent and the club were scheduled to have their arbitration hearing on Thursday in Toronto.

Instead, the 26-year-old has a long-term deal. The Western Michigan product has 14 goals and 61 assists in 234 regular-season NHL games and has averaged over 21 minutes of ice time.

Rangers: Zborovskiy inked to entry-level contract
NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed defenseman Sergey Zborovskiy on an entry-level contract.

General manager Jeff Gorton announced the signing of the team's third-round draft pick in 2015 on Tuesday.

Zborovskiy skated in 64 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League this past season, collecting eight goals and 17 assists along with a plus-15 rating. The 19-year-old established WHL career-highs in goals, assists, points, and power play goals (two), and he tied his WHL career-high in plus/minus rating.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder skated in 12 playoff games and had five assists this past season.

Zborovskiy has skated in 135 career WHL games over two seasons with Regina, registering 11 goals and 33 assists.

Flyers, RFA Brandon Manning agree to 2-year deal

Flyers, RFA Brandon Manning agree to 2-year deal

Ron Hextall has finished taking care of his own.

The Flyers on Tuesday morning agreed to a multi-year contract with restricted free agent defenseman Brandon Manning, avoiding an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 2. The deal is worth two years, $1.95 million, a source confirmed to CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman first reported the figures.

On Monday, the Flyers re-upped Brayden Schenn, their other remaining RFA.

With Manning's $975,000 average annual value, the Flyers now have about $1.04 million in salary cap space, according to generalfanager.com. Last season, Manning made $625,000.

The 26-year-old is coming off his first full NHL season in which he totaled seven points (one goal, six assists) in 56 regular-season games while also appearing in all six of the Flyers’ playoff contests.

After playing just 10 games over January and February, Manning, a lefty shot, gelled with the righty-shooting Radko Gudas to form the Flyers’ third and final defensive pairing the rest of the way. Gudas, who was a pending restricted free agent, re-signed with the Flyers on June 23.

“When you start playing every night, you get comfortable and you start getting that confidence,” Manning said at his end-of-the-season press conference in late April. “It kind of took off from there."

Flyers general manager Hextall liked what he saw down the stretch from his youth, including Manning.

“The younger guys like Brayden showed growth this year, [Sean Couturier] showed growth this year, Manning, [Scott] Laughton at times,” Hextall said after the Flyers’ first-round playoff exit to the top-seeded Capitals. “Obviously [Nick] Cousins, so we showed a lot of growth, but we need to continue to grow in that group.”

Once again, competition will be prevalent on the Flyers’ blue line come training camp in September. The team currently holds seven defensemen in Michael Del Zotto, Shayne Gostisbehere, Gudas, Andrew MacDonald, Manning, Nick Schultz and Mark Streit.

Of course, there’s topflight prospect Ivan Provorov, who will legitimately push for a roster spot at 19 years old, as well as fellow prospects Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin, who could be in the mix at some point this season. The Flyers also signed T.J. Brennan, a 27-year-old with NHL experience, to a two-way contract this summer.

Manning, who joined the Flyers’ organization in November 2010 as a free-agent signing, says he’s accustomed to fighting for a job.

"I mean, it's been the same thing for me the last five years,” Manning said in late April. “You just play as hard as you can. It's been like that for me all along. It doesn't matter who's making the most money or which prospects are coming, you just worry about yourself and come in and play the best and it usually works out for yourself.

“The Flyers have been good to me. [Hextall] has been a straight shooter over the few years he's been running the show here. I'm definitely happy here and the way things have been going with [head coach Dave Hakstol]. Everything moving forward, it's going to be a good time to be a Flyer.”