Claude Giroux has won the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke Trophy for team MVP a record five times and, given the season he’s enjoyed, it’s hard to argue against a sixth.
But we’re going to try.
Mainly because Sean Couturier is experiencing a brilliant campaign of his own.
Couturier has already tied a career-high with 31 goals and with 72 points and seven games to play, he’s likely to eclipse last season’s career-best 76.
While Giroux leads him in points, 80-73, Couturier has been clutch in the Flyers’ recent 20-8-2 stretch drive. In 31 games since Jan. 9, Couturier has registered 40 points with a plus-21.
Couturier leads Giroux in power-play goals (7-2), game-winning goals (5-4), shooting percentage (15.7-9.3) and time on ice (22:08-21.24).
Last season, the 26-year-old center finished runner-up to Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar for the Frank Selke Trophy (NHL’s best defensive forward) and given Couturier’s performance this season, look for him to be a finalist again.
It all adds up to what should be a close vote for Clarke honors. If Couturier wins, it would be his first team MVP.
Ex-Flyer Hall of Famer Mark Howe is now director of pro scouting for the Detroit Red Wings and, because he is based in New Jersey, sees many of Couturier’s performances.
Without taking anything away from Giroux’s qualifications, Howe said Couturier is a worthy candidate.
“I think he (Couturier) got off to a bit of a slow start (Couturier was recovering from a knee injury suffered in an off-season charity game), but since about the 15-game mark, I think he’s played exceptionally well, he’s been consistent,’’ Howe said at Saturday’s Flyers-Islanders game at the Wells Fargo Center.
“Every game I’ve been to he’s been a positive influence and had an impact on the game.’’
It figures to be a close vote, no matter what happens in the last couple weeks of the season.
“For me, Sean and Claude were the best two players last season,’’ said Howe, who won the Clarke Trophy in 1985-86, the second year after its inception. “And they’re the best two players this season.’’
One could have made a case for rookie goaltender Carter Hart for team MVP if he had started the season with the Flyers. But he didn’t come up from the Phantoms until Dec. 17 and has played in only 27 games.
For years, Couturier was kind of pigeon-holed into the role of defense specialist, spending a lot of time on the third line.
But at the start of last year’s training camp, ex-coach Dave Hakstol moved Couturier up to the first line, saying he wanted him to have a bigger role.
Couturier took to it right away and more than doubled his previous season-high for goals (which had been 15).
“My dad (Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, aka, “Mr. Hockey’’) often said years ago — back when you were scoring 15-20 goals you were scoring a lot – that the only difference between scoring five and 15 goals was five minutes of ice time,’’ Mark said.
“So what happened with Sean is, I don’t think there was anyone who believed he was a third-line center. Most believed he was a second-liner and then he was moved to the first line. He’s taken off and run with it.’’
Howe said the fact that Couturier has duplicated last season’s breakthrough proves it wasn’t an anomaly.
“He’s very well deserving (of MVP),’’ Howe commented. “In the big games, in the big moments, he’s come up with big plays consistently.
“I was at a game a week ago where the team (the Flyers) looked a little flat. He makes a big play, scores a big goal. . .in key moments in key games, I would say probably the last 35, 40 games, he’s been very instrumental when the Flyers need a play to be made, he’s the guy who’s been making it.’’