Couturier, Hayes say Flyers out to ‘prove everyone wrong’

Kevin Hayes

VOORHEES, N.J. – This year just about everybody is picking the Flyers to repeat last year’s last-place finish in their division.

Everybody, that is, except the Flyers themselves.

Those who predict Philadelphia to once again reside in the Metropolitan Division basement just might be giving the orange, black and white a little extra incentive to bounce back this season after two playoff-less campaigns.

That belief was confirmed at Monday’s press briefing involving veterans Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes at the Flyers Training Center.

“I think everyone should be a little frustrated by that (prognostication),’’ said Couturier, who is returning to action after missing the second half of last season due to back surgery. “Obviously you don’t want to be seen as a bottom team.

“If we can use that as a little bit of a motivation and kind of prove everyone wrong and become a good team, I think we have the potential to do it. It’s up to us to do the work and get it done.’’

Added Hayes: “I think the whole team should be excited. Fans are kind of down on our team right now but it’s a new year, a new team. I think we’re off to the right start with our whole team showing up (at training camp) pretty early.’’

The hopeful healthy returns of Couturier, Hayes (multiple abdominal surgeries), Joel Farabee (neck surgery) and Ryan Ellis (pelvic injury) could turn the tables in the Flyers’ favor.

At least that’s what Flyers fans hope. This is the team’s longest playoff drought since 1992-94.

“If you look at the lineup we had last year, we were into games but it seems like we were missing some experience, some key guys to close off games and stay in them tight,’’ Couturier said. “If we can all come back healthy, bond together early, buy into the new systems, the new coaches’ philosophy, I think we can surprise a lot of people.’’

Hayes expressed similar sentiments.

“I think on paper we have a really good team,’’ he said. “Last year I didn’t think we had good stats as a defensive team (franchise record minus-87). Everybody should be excited because we’re getting back players we missed a lot last year. Every year is exciting but when you have a bad year like last year it just adds to it.’’

At first glance, it appears the Flyers are excited and motivated to start a new era. Most of them were at the FTC by Sept. 1, a full three weeks before the official start of training camp and much earlier than most years.

“Guys are practicing hard,’’ Couturier said. “Working hard in the gym. Just trying to get better. I think that’s already a step in the right direction. As we go into the season, we’ll see if we’ve grown as a team and can get back into contention.’’

Another factor in the equation is the hiring of new head coach John Tortorella, who’s already made it known he plans to change the “culture’’ in the Flyers’ locker room. That probably starts with pushing every player to his full potential.

“Obviously something needed to be changed,’’ Hayes said. “It was embarrassing for our group. We weren’t very good. If we’re going to change the culture, ‘Torts’ is the right guy. He’s kind of a no-nonsense guy. Holds everyone accountable, whether you’ve played a thousand games or you’re a rookie. You need accountability. That’s how you win.’’

If this becomes a boot camp, so be it.

“I’m going to push myself and I think ‘Torts’ is kind of here to do that,’’ Couturier said. “Make it a tough camp, a lot of skating and see if we’re in shape. I’m just trying to get back and show who I was.’’

Hayes needed time to recover from the last of his surgeries in January but seemed to find his game again in the last quarter of the season. Like Couturier, he believes things seem to be turning back in the right direction.

“I feel way better,’’ Hayes said. “When I first tried to come back I wasn’t a hundred percent. The infection was holding me back. Once that got cleaned out, it was night and day how much better I felt. At the end of the season, those last 20 games. . .this is the first summer in a few where I could go into training doing everything. Nothing was holding me back.’’

Couturier said he received final medical clearance to resume action about two weeks ago. He expressed optimism the operation has completely corrected the problem and should allow him to go at full speed once the regular season opens.

“I feel good,’’ he said. “I had a long recovery, longer than I thought. There were ups and downs but now I’m feeling good. I’m excited to get going again. Hopefully I can move on from this and never look back.

According to Hayes, the Flyers’ fate for 2022-23 really comes down to believing in themselves.

“We definitely don’t have high expectations from an external feel outside this organization,’’ he said. “But I think inside the room, if you don’t believe in yourself and the team, it’s tough to win.

“People can say we’re not going to be any good. But you really can’t judge it until you start winning or losing games.’’

>Candidates for captain

It looks like Couturier and Cam Atkinson, who is scheduled to speak on Tuesday, are the two main candidates for the captaincy left vacant by the trade of Claude Giroux last season.

Couturier said if chosen he would be proud to serve. He’s now the longest tenured player on the team (started in 2011) and that makes his potential pick a natural.

“If it happens it happens,’’ he said. “But like I’ve said before, it’s not going to change the player I am. I’m still going to lead by example. Whoever is the captain, everyone still needs to take responsibility and some leadership in this locker room.’’




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About Wayne Fish 2446 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.