There will be no contract year for Sean Couturier.
The Flyers' alpha dog down the middle signed a well-earned eight-year, $62 million contract extension on Thursday. Couturier was set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season.
With his development into the 2019-20 Selke Trophy winner and a true do-it-all center, Couturier had become a bargain on his current six-year, $26 million contract. The deal, which has one more year left, sports an average annual value of $4.333 million. Couturier's new contract has an AAV of $7.75 million.
General manager Chuck Fletcher said the deal has a full no-move clause which turns into a limited no-move clause during the final year in 2029-30.
"He's a premier player," Fletcher said. "It's a premier contract."
On top of the raise, the 28-year-old deserves the long-term security. Among NHL centers since the start of the 2017-18 season, Couturier ranks sixth in faceoff percentage (56.6 — minimum 3,000 taken), seventh in minutes per game (20:56), tied for seventh in even-strength points (166), eighth in on-ice goal differential at even strength (plus-65), 12th in shorthanded minutes (572:07), tied for 13th in goals (104) and tied for 16th in points (252).
Over that same span, among all NHL forwards, Couturier is the only one to rank in the top 15 in both even-strength points (tied for 13th) and shorthanded time on ice (15th).
"He's a rare talent," Fletcher said. "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."
Couturier, who was selected by the Flyers in the first round of the 2011 draft, had always been a defensively responsible center going back to his 2011-12 rookie year as a teenager. In 2017-18, he broke out offensively and is now regarded as one of the top two-way players in the game.
"To be part of the Flyers organization for another eight years following next year is extremely exciting," Couturier said in a statement released by the team. "I like the way the team is built and the mix of players that we have. I’m really looking forward to it but especially this year. We’ve made a lot of changes, but it’s all positive and very exciting."
Couturier missed 11 games because of injuries during the Flyers' highly disappointing 2020-21 campaign. In the second game of the season, he suffered a costochondral separation and was forced to miss the next 10 games. He also dealt with a previous nagging hip issue, which forced him to miss a game in March against the Islanders and had lingering effects.
Considering the circumstances, Couturier still had a pretty solid season. Despite being a minus player for just the second time in his career (minus-4), Couturier won his third straight Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP, led Flyers forwards with 19:20 minutes per game, finished second on the club in goals (18) and fourth in points (41).
But the Flyers yielded an NHL-most 3.52 goals per game and didn't make the playoffs.
"It was a grind," Couturier said at his end-of-the-season press conference in May. "I only played 45 and it was a grind. Especially when I missed that game there in the Island and I came back, took me probably seven to 10 days to kind of get my legs going again and I wasn't feeling as good as before that injury. But yeah, it was tough to recover from any sort of little injuries, so it was a grind. But every team went through that schedule. It might have been a little tougher because COVID hit us, but we needed to be better and we weren't good enough."
As a result, Fletcher had an aggressive offseason in reshaping the Flyers' roster. In a span of 40 days, the GM acquired Ryan Ellis, Cam Atkinson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Keith Yandle, Martin Jones, Derick Brassard and Nate Thompson.
"At the end of last season, I vowed that we would make changes, that it was unacceptable and I think I was true to my word," Fletcher said. "We were aggressively looking to change our team. We feel that the areas we needed to improve upon, we have.
"The goal was pretty straightforward: just to get better. I can't live through another year like last year; it took years off my life and everybody else's, it's not worth it. We're in this business to be competitive and try to win and that's our goal."
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