Risks, rewards of Couturier’s big extension with Flyers

Risk and rewards of Couturier's big extension with Flyers
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The Flyers no longer need to worry about Sean Couturier pricing himself out of Philadelphia with a big contract year. Instead, the Flyers signed Couturier to an eight-year contract extension that carries a $7.75 million cap hit.

Flyers sign Sean Couturier to eight-year contract extension ($7.75M cap hit)

Curiously, both Sean Couturier and Andrei Svechnikov signed eight-year deals that will eventually carry $7.75M cap hits, each on Thursday.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, as the situations are quite different.

For 21-year-old Svechnikov, his eight-year contract kicks in immediately. Couturier, meanwhile, carries a bargain $4.33M cap hit for 2021-22, then that $7.75M AAV triggers starting in 2022-23.

Being that Couturier is already 28, his contract extension carries long-term risks that aren’t much of a concern for Svechnikov. On the other hand, a $7.75M cap hit could be a huge bargain for Couturier during the early part of that contract extension, as he matches the Flyers praises:

” … As one of the premier two-way centers in the NHL, Sean has the rare talent to shut down opposing team’s top players while also contributing at a high offensive level,” GM Chuck Fletcher noted in the team’s release.

For years, Couturier drew praise for his two-way play, at least from “fancy stats” types. Eventually, even the most old-school observers couldn’t miss the kind of player he became.

In 2016-17, Couturier completed his fourth consecutive 30+ point season, producing 34 points in 66 games. His actual value to Philly ranked as “more than meets the eye.”

Starting in 2017-18, he really took off. Couturier rattled off 76 points in both 2017-18 and 2018-19, then won the 2020 Selke Trophy. This past season, Couturier collected almost a point-per-game for the Flyers (41 points in 45 games).

Long-term worries

In a vacuum, it’s easy to justify the Flyers signing Couturier to that extension. As that tweet above notes, it feels just, as he was underpaid for so much of his career.

But when you zoom out, it’s also fair to get a little worried about Chuck Fletcher‘s long-term commitments.

  • Couturier is elite now, but turns 29 in December. Couturier’s eight-year extension could age really poorly. (That said, at least his heady two-way game ages better than that of, say, a sniper.)
  • Kevin Hayes, 29, and his rough $7.143M cap hit are on the books for five more seasons (expiring after 2025-26).
  • Travis Konecny, 24, still seems fair at $5.5M through 2024-25. After spending much of last season in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse, it’s not the same steal it once looked like. (Maybe AV deserves a lot of the blame there … maybe not.)
  • By trading Jakub Voracek, the Flyers saved some cap space. Cam Atkinson, 32, does see his $5.875M cap hit last longer, though (four more seasons, through 2024-25).
  • Personally, the Ryan Ellis trade seems like the sort of risk worth taking — especially at a laughably low price. The risks can’t be totally ignored, though. The 30-year-old’s $6.25M could go from thrifty in 2021-22 to a problem before it ends after 2026-27.
  • Then we have two medium-to-long-term commitments in players the Flyers hope live up to the hype.

Ivan Provorov, 24, is paid like a rising star defenseman ($6.75M per year through 2024-25). That’s an easier contract to take after an outright-zany offseason for defensemen contracts, but Provorov’s production doesn’t always match his reptuation.

[Seth Jones presents even bigger risks, among others]

Consider his player card from Evolving Hockey:

Risk and rewards of Couturier's big extension with Flyers Provorov player card
via Evolving Hockey

That’s not the end of the world, especially when you consider how teams paid defensemen with even shabbier “fancy stats” more money with riskier term than what Provorov carries. That’s not ideal, either, though.

(The Flyers must hope that Provorov prospers, which is plausible if he gels with Ellis.)

That’s not a small “if” after a disastrous season, though.

Couturier extension makes some sense, but Flyers should otherwise reduce risks

Overall, the Flyers sure feel heavy on big-time commitments for a team that missed the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There’s reason to worry that Chuck Fletcher is saddling the Flyers with long-term risks in the same way that he burdened the Wild.

Couturier’s extension seems like one of the Flyers’ more reasonable risks, but it could still backfire.

All things considered, the Flyers should resist making rash decisions with at least two players:

  1. With all of these gambles, trading Claude Giroux becomes more than just a PR risk. They need to be careful with the 33-year-old, though, as his $8.275M cap hit expires after next season. Getting lured into an extension could be risky. Maybe Giroux would take a late-career discount to stick around? That could hinge on how this season plays out.
  2. During his somber Sabres career, Rasmus Ristolainen‘s ranked as one of the worst No.1/top pairing defensemen when it came to underlying metrics. Getting less-outrageous ice time didn’t really mitigate his struggles.

When the Flyers sent a surprisingly strong trade package to the Sabres for Ristolainen, many were (understandably) worried that they’d double their gambles by also signing him to an extension.

So far, that hasn’t happened. Here’s advice, then: let the season play out, even if it means realizing that Ristolainen is as flawed as the advanced metrics indicate.

Yes, it will hurt to admit you made the wrong bet. It’s better to gamble away that boat of your dreams than to double down and lose your house too, though, right?

Some risks make more sense than others for Philly — but they’re stacking up

In the grand scheme of things, the Couturier extension makes sense for the Flyers. You can justify the long-term risks thanks to the short (and maybe medium) rewards. And Couturier’s demise might not be so grim if he ages like, say, Patrice Bergeron. (Bergeron, somehow, is 36.)

That said, don’t let Philly totally off the hook if this all crumbles really soon.

When you look at some of the NHL’s worst contracts, some inspired instant groans of agony, but others could seemingly be explained away. In plenty of cases, the long-term worries instead became immediate concerns.

Should the Flyers really keep investing in what they’ve built after years of up-and-down results? Time will tell with the Flyers’ Couturier extension, plus risks that are much tougher to explain.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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