VOORHEES, N.J. – The Flyers finished 14th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference this past season and a lot of that had to due with the absences of Cam Atkinson and Sean Couturier.
Perhaps the two most accomplished veterans on the team were sidelined by serious surgeries and the team’s statistics show how badly they were missed.
The Flyers were last in the NHL for power-play percentage, 26th for penalty kill and 30th in faceoffs.
Without question, if Atkinson and Couturier can return healthy next season and perform up to their usual standards, those numbers will greatly improve.
Atkinson underwent neck surgery last year and knew he wasn’t going to be playing any hockey in the ensuing season.
It was a tough blow but one he had to accept. He wants to continue his NHL playing career and there was no other option.
Atkinson’s return would mean a lot to the Flyers in all situations, including special teams.
“I take a lot of pride in playing in every situation, especially on the PP, but even more so on the PK,” Atkinson said Friday on getaway day. “I’ve scored a lot of shorthanded goals, just because I trust my instincts and kind of do my own thing out there. I don’t know if people forget, I think I’m right behind Sebastian Aho for most shorthanded goals since 2015, or something like that.
“And ‘Coots’ as well. We play such a huge role on special teams that obviously it allowed other guys to test it out a little bit to see what works and what doesn’t. I think we’ll both help to an extreme extent on both ends power play and PK. Not that we’re going to be the solution. I think every guy needs to step up and do a little bit better job on both sides, but I think we’ll help a lot more than hurt.”
Couturier, who underwent his second back surgery before the regular season began, was hoping to get into a few games before the season but it was not to be.
Now he’s already anxious to get the 2023-24 season started.
He knows there’s a youth movement underway but the rebuild still needs a couple of proven hands. That should only shorten the timeline to contention again.
“Rebuild or not, for me anyways, in the situation I’m in with the two back surgeries, it’s important to come back strong and show that I can be the player I was before the injury,” Couturier said. “We’re using the rebuild word, but I think it’s on us players to just make sure we come ready, and we can maybe speed up the process. That’s on us to just develop and grow as a team, and we’ll see how it goes next year.”
Couturier has no problem showing patience as this ongoing rebuild continues. After all, he’s already waited the better part of two years.
“I’m not going to be saving this organization by coming back,” he said. “I think it’s important to do this rebuild the right way. What I’m saying is, if you look at kind of like New York a couple years ago, they send out that letter and you think it’s a big rebuild – three, four years – and next thing you know they’re in the playoffs the following year, two years later, and they’ve been good since. It’s like I said, things can change quick in the NHL.
“We’ve seen it the last two, three years, we were supposed to be one of the top-end teams and we went to the bottom of the standings. It’s on us as a team, as players, as an organization to switch it around and get back to where this organization belongs.”