Philadelphia Flyers president of hockey operations Keith Jones addressed the health and availability of three of his organization’s bigger-name players to NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman today. He spoke on Flyers number-one center Sean Couturier, veteran goal scorer Cam Atkinson, and defenseman Ryan Ellis.
On Couturier and Atkinson, Jones said that both are expected to be healthy and on the ice for the start of Flyers training camp next month. That’s not only major news for each player but also the Flyers organization at large, as the team’s offensive attack has suffered tremendously in the absence of two of the team’s most experienced players.
Couturier, 30, is arguably the Flyers’ best player. Couturier hasn’t played an NHL game since December 2021 and has had two back surgeries since that point.
Kimelman notes that Couturier “Couturier was practicing before the end of last season and had been hoping to get into a game,” but the Flyers made the decision not to rush Couturier back into what was a lost season, preferring to afford him the more extended timeline of a full offseason of training leading up to his first game back.
When healthy, Couturier is a top-of-the-line two-way center who is capable of scoring at a near-point-per-game rate. (he has crossed the 75-point plateau twice in his career) The 2019-20 Selke Trophy winner could very well compete for more Selke trophies when healthy, especially now that Patrice Bergeron has retired.
With the Flyers intensely interested in developing their young talent and providing young players with prime opportunities to succeed in the NHL, having Couturier healthy is a huge asset. For young wingers such as Tyson Foerster or Bobby Brink, players the Flyers desperately want to succeed in the NHL, having the chance to play on a line centered by Couturier could do wonders in easing their adjustment to the NHL.
As for Atkinson, as a 34-year-old under contract only through the 2024-25 season he is unlikely to be with the Flyers by the time they enter their next competitive phase. That’s unlike Couturier, who is signed to a long-term, $7.75MM AAV contract through the end of the decade. Atkinson is a favorite of head coach John Tortorella but missed all of last season after undergoing neck surgery.
The fact that the Flyers’ next playoff run will likely happen outside of Atkinson’s contract doesn’t mean he can’t provide value to the Flyers for the rest of his deal. The former 41-goal scorer returning to full health could improve the developmental environment in Philadelphia, just as having a healthy Couturier would.
Atkinson is a widely respected veteran who can capably score 20 goals and 50 points in a full season. For a young center the Flyers wish to see continue to develop, such as Morgan Frost or Noah Cates, having an accomplished veteran winger to play with and help the line succeed offensively could be genuinely helpful.
The key to the right developmental environment for a rebuilding club is to provide the right mix of young players and established talent, rather than just stocking a roster with as many unproven youngsters as possible. The issue for the Flyers has been that so many of the team’s key veteran forwards have been injured (such as Couturier and Atkinson) or a poor fit with Tortorella. (Kevin Hayes)
Getting both Atkinson and Couturier back from their season-long injuries not only helps the Flyers win more games in the immediate term, but it should also yield real benefits for the development of the Flyers’ young talent.
As for Ellis, Jones told Kimelman that the defenseman is unlikely to “be able to continue his playing career because of a torn psoas muscle in his back.” Jones added that Ellis is “exhausting everything that he can in order to play” but that the injury is simply making his return to the ice impossible.
Ellis, 32, was a high-end defenseman for the Nashville Predators for 562 games before he was dealt to Philadelphia in the summer of 2021 in exchange for Philippe Myers and 2017 number-two pick Nolan Patrick.
Ellis only managed to play in four games for the Flyers, scoring five points, before injuries knocked him out of the lineup. As long as this injury keeps Ellis from being able to play he will likely remain on the Flyers’ long-term injured reserve list in order for the team to receive cap relief for Ellis’ $6.25MM AAV contract, a deal that runs through 2026-27.
While Ellis appears to have every desire to return to the ice and continue his career, based on Jones comments it appears that expecting Ellis to ever suit up for another NHL game would be a mistake. While the organization must be happy to have Atkinson and Couturier back for training camp, the seemingly permanent absence of Ellis is undoubtedly unfortunate for both the Flyers and Ellis himself.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.