Perhaps the most significant matter facing the Flyers this offseason isn’t the draft, the free-agent signing period or even the hiring of a new coach.
It’s the health status of probably their best forward, Sean Couturier, and potentially their No. 1 defenseman, Ryan Ellis.
On Saturday’s getaway day, both players predicted they will be one hundred percent by the time training camp rolls around in September.
While Couturier’s projected return carries a lot of weight in the overall scheme of things, it’s the status of Ellis which might have the Flyers’ brain trust lying awake at night.
Ellis said his treatment for a “pelvic region’’ injury is coming along well. He expects to begin skating by next month and surgery, at least “for the moment,’’ has been ruled out.
The Hamilton, Ontario native, who came over from Nashville in a trade which sent Nolan Patrick and Philippe Myers to the Predators last July 17, is signed through 2026-27 at a salary cap hit of $6.25 million. At 31, he’s one of the NHL’s top defenders, having been paired with Norris Trophy favorite Roman Josi two seasons back.
For his career, he’s a plus-116.
The recovery outlook appears to be fairly bright.
“We have a plan in place. It took a long time to figure out what was going on and how to embark on that plan,’’ he said at the Flyers’ training center “I’m very happy and comfortable. Me and the management, everyone’s on the same page and the aim is to be healthy for training camp.’’
Ellis describes the injury as a “multi-layered problem.’’
“It had multiple levels of what the problem was,’’ he said. “I’m excited to be ready for training camp. It’s going to be a long summer, trying to get through it all, but I’m excited.”
Ellis said this was the “hardest year’’ of his hockey career. He only played four games before he had to shut things down.
“Can’t say I’ve been through anything harder,’’ he said. “Coming to a new team, this year is probably the most excited I’ve been for hockey. New team, new city, new fans, new building, you name it. Everything was new and exciting. Our team had unbelievable upside to it all. I think with the amount of injuries and whatnot obviously didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.’’
Were there ever moments when this injury felt career-threatening?
“For sure, there’ve been some really low points for me this year,’’ he said. “Nothing to do with the team, nothing to do with anything more than just my health and finding someone that can point me in the right direction. It’s been frustrating in that sense, and like I’ve said, now we’ve got a plan. It’s just about putting it all together.’’
Couturier has already been skating and doing light drills the past couple weeks. The former Frank Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) winner was certainly missed on both sides of the puck this season.
At the moment, Couturier would have to be considered the leading candidate to replace Claude Giroux (traded to Florida in March) as team captain.
Couturier’s value extends into the locker room where he serves as a sounding board for nearly all of the Flyers’ young hopefuls.
He watched a lot of the games upstairs and knows the strengths and weaknesses of everyone out there.
“You always try to learn something from watching hockey, whether it’s us (the Flyers) or it’s (other teams) on TV,’’ he said. “It’s part of the job, I guess. Get little tips here and there to help my game. Whenever guys ask me what I think or what I would do, it’s always fun to share what I know, tricks or whatever experience I have. It’s not something like I’m going to the young guys or trying to be a coach. Try to observe and learn a lot, and whenever I can help, I try to help.”
Probably the area the Flyers missed Couturier the most was special teams. The power play was the worst in the NHL and the penalty kill wasn’t much better.
There probably aren’t any quick fixes.
“I think the power play, you can win games with the power play and lose games with the PK,’’ Couturier said. “This year is a little bit of both. We didn’t win games because we couldn’t score on the power play. We were in the game, but just couldn’t get that big goal to put that other team away. The PK didn’t really help us when we were ahead. It was just a year to forget. I think it’s important to learn from it, come back next year and be better.’’