Flyers

As Flyers lock up Couturier for long run, Giroux's future takes center stage

Flyers

Chuck Fletcher got a big one out of the way.

Another big one is still ahead. Bigger in many ways. That one appears to be determined.

But let's start with the one now crossed off of Fletcher's list.

With the potential of a salivating market having its shot at Sean Couturier next summer, the Flyers' general manager inked the organization's centerpiece to an eight-year, $62 million contract extension on Thursday.

"Sean's our best hockey player right now, he's the key guy," Fletcher said. "If Sean had left, that would have changed the direction of the franchise. To lock him up was incredibly important for the short and long term."

Couturier, one of the NHL's most complete forces down the middle of the ice, truly earned the long-term security. He was slated to hit unrestricted free agency after the 2021-22 season. The Flyers did not want to go there, as evidenced by the extension prior to training camp even rolling around.

More: 'Don't really see that much anymore' — Couturier has shot at Philly special

The 28-year-old was due a payday after turning his current six-year, $26 million deal into a bargain. Couturier will be 37 years old when his new contract wraps up. Committing to a player into his late-30s may cause apprehension to some, but top players warrant term in their primes. And longer term typically means better cost flexibility. The Flyers got that with a player who provides them everything on the ice.

 

"We can't kid ourselves — very, very few centermen hit market and Sean would have done extremely well next summer, would have had his choice of landing spots, and he chose to stay in Philadelphia," Fletcher said. "We're very, very excited about that."

Fletcher, having worked in hockey front offices since 1993 and knowing the challenges of the flat cap, sort of scoffed at the perception of eight years being too lengthy of a commitment. There really is no perfect deal. Both sides must compromise and a team must reward its top players to keep them.

"I want to come back and live in the world that some of these people live in; the ideal world and the real world," Fletcher said with a laugh. "Look, Sean Couturier, this guy's an elite hockey player. I don't know, maybe I like him more than some other people, but he's extremely good offensively, he's extremely good defensively, he's great on faceoffs, he's a play driver. I think he's one of five centermen in the league that led their respective teams in terms of time on ice at 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill. When we're down a goal, we play him. When we're up a goal, we play him. He's a rare talent. You just can't find these players.

"Sean would have been very richly, richly rewarded had he become a UFA next summer. We're thrilled that he worked with us to give us the cap hit that we were able to get. To have a No. 1 centerman at $7.75 million is a real advantage for our club as we try to build around him, as we try to build a Stanley Cup-winning team.

"I'd love to live in that ideal world. Sean got a contract that he richly deserved. Like a lot of great players, if you want to keep them, you have to pay a price."

If anyone is legitimately worried about the length of the commitment, the fact that Couturier's game profiles well for longevity should alleviate some concerns. He's never been a center built on flash and speed. His game is predicated on outwitting and outworking the opposition by using his length, disruptiveness and underrated skill. Those strengths won't diminish with age.

"He's a high-end competitor," Fletcher said. "That drive, that competitiveness, he wants to win. He even showed it again with this contract, by working with us on the AAV — because he wants to win, he wants the team to have the ability to build around him. His team orientation is top end. Obviously the talent, the compete and the character — it's a rare talent. You can look around the league, how many of these types of players that excel at both ends of the rink and can play in any situation; he's clearly one of them."

Claude Giroux is a player who has aged remarkably well. He's the other big decision for Fletcher. The Flyers' captain can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, setting up 2021-22 as a contract year for the city's longest-tenured active athlete going back to 2008.

 

The 33-year-old Giroux has unfinished business in Philadelphia, with an overdue playoff run at the forefront. Whether the new-look Flyers rebound from last season's disappointment could go a long way in deciding what's next. Is Giroux's next chapter inevitably elsewhere or is the longtime Flyer writing an all-time Flyer finish?

We'll see. The stage is certainly set.

"I've had good conversations with Claude and with Pat Brisson, his agent," Fletcher said. "At this point, our plan is to play the season out and we'll talk at the end of the season. I think we're both comfortable with that. Claude's our captain, he's a great player and I anticipate that we'll find a way to continue that relationship going forward. Right now, I think what we'll do is we'll just get through the season and we'll look at the situation — see where he's at, see where we're at and we'll do what's best for everybody."

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