VOORHEES, N.J. – Flyers veteran center Sean Couturier underwent back surgery on Friday morning and will miss the remainder of the season.
The operation was performed by Dr. Jon Yoon at Pennsylvania Hospital.
Couturier, 29, played in only 29 games this season, recording six goals/17 points with a minus-6.
The Phoenix, Arizona native’s last game was a 4-3 overtime win against Ottawa back on Dec. 18.
“This wasn’t an issue that was bothering him coming into this year,’’ said general manager Chuck Fletcher during a press conference at the Flyers Training Center. “I think he started having issues in the fall, tried to battle through, we tried to treat things non-surgically.’’
That included a couple epidurals, which are a serious matter.
“Ultimately you do your best to avoid back surgery if you can,’’ Fletcher said. “The doctor and Sean felt confident the best way to resolve this going forward would be to have this surgical intervention. It was successful today. It’s about a three-month return to play which takes him out of season.’’
Fletcher expressed confidence Couturier will be fully recovered and ready for training camp in September.
“Fortunately for him and for us, it (the three-month timeframe) will give him a chance to have a normal summer of training and come back healthy for the 2022-23 season.’’
Meanwhile, defenseman Ryan Ellis appears to be almost in the same boat as Couturier. Ellis managed to play in only four games before shutting down and Fletcher indicated a decision on possible surgery could be forthcoming.
“If Ryan does have surgery, whether it was two months ago or now, it will knock him out for the season,’’ Fletcher said. “We’ve trying to again avoid surgery and look at different ways of rehabbing and treatment to allow him to play. We’re starting to get to the point in the year where obviously his health is first and foremost. The second issue would be making sure he’s ready for next year.’’
Fletcher spoke with Ellis on Friday morning.
“He’s worked hard, he’s done everything he can,’’ Fletcher said. “We’ll see where we’re at. But in the next few weeks we’ll have to make a decision.’’
The news on Kevin Hayes appears to be equally grim. He underwent two abdominal operations prior to the season, then had an issue with his adductor muscle which currently has him on the shelf again.
The GM said another surgical procedure might be needed to get the problem resolved.
“There’s certainly a lot going on, the core muscle, the groin,’’ Fletcher said. “I think with Kevin it’s 50/50 that he can come back and play. He may also need some additional work (surgery) done to get him ready for next year. We’re doing what we can, he’s seen different specialists. I feel we have a good grasp on where we’re at.’’
Fletcher was asked about the recovery progress of former first-round draft pick Tyson Foerster, who underwent shoulder surgery. He was skating at the Flyers Training Center on Friday but he’s still a long shot to play again anytime soon.
“The shoulder surgery he had, I don’t think he would be a candidate to play again this year,’’ Fletcher said. “Rehab is going well, everything is going the right way. We’re very confident he will be good to go next year.’’
Two highly regarded prospects, Tanner Laczynski and Ryan Fitzgerald, have been rehabbing from injuries and both figure to be back playing with the Phantoms in a week or two.
Laczynski gave a pretty impressive showing in five games with the Flyers last season.
“Both have made tremendous progress,’’ Fletcher said. “They put a lot of time and effort in so I’m excited for both of them.’’
>Coaching search not started
Fletcher said he won’t start a permanent head coaching search until the season is over. For now, interim head coach Mike Yeo will remain in place for the remainder of the campaign.
“We’ll get to the end of the season,’’ Fletcher said. “I’ve been working with Mike and the coaching staff now and certainly I think about this all the time. At the end of the season we’ll sit down, look at every department and look to make the changes we want to make. Right now there’s still a lot of hockey to be played.’’
>O’Neill off to good start
Yardley native Brian O’Neill, the only holdover from the 2018 Team USA men’s Olympic hockey team, has gotten off to a quick start with this year’s squad in Beijing.
O’Neill, 33, scored a goal in USA’s 8-0 rout of China on Thursday. That already matches the one goal he scored in ’18 during the Games in Korea.