NHL Awards

Kevin Hayes, Ian Laperriere explain what makes Sean Couturier a Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist

Kevin Hayes, Ian Laperriere explain what makes Sean Couturier a Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist

Kevin Hayes did not forget the list.

Now that he has seen Sean Couturier up close on a day-to-day basis, the list makes him shake his head.

Last summer, the NHL Network published a ranking of top-20 centers in the league. Couturier, who was coming off a second straight 76-point, 30-plus-goal season, did not make the cut.

With time, the Flyers' 200-foot force down the middle has started to gain more league-wide notoriety. For some reason, he didn't get it from the NHL Network last August. This August, he'll enter the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament as one of three finalists for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, an honor given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.

It made Hayes think of that list.

"I remember at the beginning of the season, someone asked me how he wasn’t in the top-20 centers in the league I think," Hayes said Tuesday. "Whoever made those choices needs to figure it out. This guy’s unbelievable, he’s one of the best players I’ve played with. You see him after games, he’s barely sweating. He just knows the game — he knows where to be, he knows how to play, he knows how to defend. That’s what you want in your first-line center; he’s elite. He got recognized for it once and I think this year, he should run away with it."

As Hayes mentioned, Couturier was a finalist for the 2017-18 Selke Trophy and finished second. This year could be the 27-year-old center's best shot yet at the honor.

A center like Hayes, who uses a strong frame, strategic long reach and tough-to-play-against style himself, has enjoyed being on Couturier's side in 2019-20. Hayes played against Couturier from 2014 to 2019 when he spent parts of five seasons with the Rangers.

Couturier (6-3/211) and Hayes (6-5/216), the Flyers' one-two punch down the middle, are no cakewalk for the opposition.

"He really puts time into his craft and he’s all in when he’s at the rink," Hayes said of Couturier. "Him and [Matt Niskanen], I never played with those guys before this year and sit back and you don’t realize how good they are until they're actually your teammates. He’s an elite player and you realize how good he is when you see him at the rink every day and you see how he goes about his life.

"He’s up for [the Selke] for a reason and I think he deserves to win it this year. He had a great year, he’s had great years his whole career."

Couturier came into the league as a 19-year-old regarded for his defensive strengths. After not cracking 40 points in any of his first six seasons, Couturier has worked his way into one of the NHL's premier multifaceted pivots.

Assistant coach Ian Laperriere has been on the Flyers' staff since 2012 and in the organization since 2009. He has watched Couturier blossom.

He’s got the quality of he’s committed to the game," Laperriere said. "You see that in the Crosbys of this world, the McDavids of this world, every summer, every training camp they come back better because they did work over the summer. Coots has got that quality in him. He could have ridden the wave of being a good defensive player when he came in as a 19-year-old, could have had a pretty good career, but he wasn’t satisfied. That's what a guy who’s passionate about the game and committed to the game, they're never satisfied. He worked on the other aspects of his game and that’s why he’s the player he is today and that's why he’s nominated for a Selke.

"I hate to use that word 'perfect player,' but he’s the closest thing that you’ll find. There’s no cheat in his game. What’s great about Coots, he’s a great example for the young guys like [Morgan] Frost and [Joel] Farabee, just to look at him and see what he does on and off the ice. He’s one of our leaders for a reason.

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NHL awards: Sean Couturier named 2019-20 Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist with Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O'Reilly

NHL awards: Sean Couturier named 2019-20 Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist with Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O'Reilly

Sean Couturier is no longer surprising people or having to win them over.

When you think of the top defensive forwards in hockey, his name now comes right to mind of those across the league.

“Sean Couturier is one of the best two-way centers I’ve seen in this game," Alain Vigneault, who has coached 17 years in the NHL, said Feb. 1.

It took time for the 27-year-old to build his do-it-all brand and have it recognized. Couturier, who came into the league at 19 years old, could be staring at his best shot yet for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, an honor given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.

On Monday, the Flyers' alpha dog down the middle was named a finalist for the award, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Couturier is up against the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron and the Blues' Ryan O’Reilly, while the winner is expected to be announced during the Conference Final series, which are slated to begin Sept. 8. If Couturier wins, he'll become the third Flyer to ever take home the honor, joining Bob Clarke (1982-83) and Dave Poulin (1986-87).

"Attention to details, trying to do the right things all the time, being on the right side of the puck, being reliable in all aspects of the game — I try to take pride in that," Couturier said Monday to Flyers senior director of communications Zack Hill. "It's nice to be honored and recognized by the media. Hopefully I can keep doing this for years and have the same reputation year after year."

Among NHL centers during the 2019-20 season, Couturier ranked first in faceoff win percentage (59.6 — minimum of 100 taken), tied for fifth in plus-minus (plus-21) and secondary assists (22), 13th in even-strength points (46), 15th in shots (185), 17th in time on ice per game (19:50), tied for 18th in assists (37), tied for 22nd in goals (22) and tied for 30th in shorthanded minutes (140:29), all while constantly drawing the opposition's toughest assignment (see story).

Interestingly, for Couturier to win his first Selke Trophy this year (he was the 2017-18 runner-up), he'll have to dethrone a guy he has looked up to and respected in the 200-foot, nothing-comes-easy-against-me department: Mr. Bergeron. The Bruins' soon-to-be 35-year-old center has won the award four times. During Couturier's rookie season, Bergeron was 26 and won his first Selke.

"He’s definitely a great role model for any young player or any young guys trying to learn the game, to play the right way," Couturier said last week. "He does all the little things right, barely makes any mistakes, plays the right way and he’s responsible. He’s definitely a player that any young guy can look up to and learn from — it was no different for me coming into the league. He was already established and a solid player, so I definitely looked up to guys like him, [Anze] Kopitar, [Jonathan] Toews, Jordan Staal. Those guys are really reliable and play the game the right way. It’s definitely an honor just to be mentioned in the same conversation as those guys."

Let's take a look at Couturier's chances:

Working in Couturier's favor

In the PHWA's midseason awards released Jan. 23, Couturier was the leading vote-getter for the Selke Trophy among the 117 writers who filled out ballots, followed by Bergeron and O’Reilly (see story). To lead the group was certainly proof that Couturier has everyone's attention. And he did nothing to hurt his chances down the stretch, delivering 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) and a plus-6 rating over the Flyers' final 19 games since Jan. 23 as his team went on to finish with the NHL's sixth-most points (89). He factored into everything for arguably the NHL's most improved club (see story).

Not working in Couturier's favor

Bergeron is the gold standard, being named a Selke Trophy finalist for a record ninth straight season. He had another really good year (31 goals, 25 assists, plus-23 rating) for the NHL's best team that allowed a league-low 2.39 goals per game. Couturier now has a reputation, but Bergeron added to his just as well in 2019-20. O’Reilly's season was nothing to scoff at, either, as the reigning winner led the finalists with 61 points (albeit in two more games than Couturier and 10 more than Bergeron) while winning an NHL-most 880 faceoffs.

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Flyers' Oskar Lindblom voted as 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy finalist

Flyers' Oskar Lindblom voted as 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy finalist

When Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom rung the bell on the 5th floor of the Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital on July 2, it signified the completion of his radiation treatments.

But also so much more.

It signified the 23-year-old's unwavering courage and fight to overcome a life obstacle as scary as cancer.

He’s one of the toughest guys I know," Kevin Hayes said Wednesday. "Every time you saw him, he was upbeat, he was happy. If it wasn’t for him losing his hair, you probably wouldn’t have known he had cancer. He was a true warrior, true professional, and made us realize that what our problems are, they're not that serious. I think he brought our team together.

Lindblom, along with Stephen Johns (Stars) and Bobby Ryan (Senators), was voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association as a finalist for the 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, an award given annually to "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.”

The winner is expected to be announced during the Conference Final series, which are scheduled to begin Sept. 8.

"I'm very humbled to be considered for this award that so many courageous and great players have won," Lindblom said in a statement released by the team. "Seeing the overwhelming support from fans, my teammates and the entire hockey community has been very emotional for me and without a doubt helped me get through this difficult time, and back to being with and doing the things I love."

The Swedish native was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in mid-December. The Flyers, fans and the NHL have rallied around Lindblom ever since. Lindblom, who according to his medical team is now deemed without evidence of cancer at this time, constantly uplifted the Flyers' spirits with his own presence and positivity despite enduring draining treatments.

Back in December, the Flyers had finished an 0-3-0 road trip during which they learned of Lindblom's sudden and shocking diagnosis. At that juncture, it was the club's lowest point of the season. As the Flyers returned to Philadelphia, Lindblom greeted them at the Wells Fargo Center and the team went on to win four straight games.

Prior to his diagnosis, Lindblom was projected to finish with 30 goals, which would have shattered his career high of 17 set in a promising 2018-19 rookie season.

"That was a huge moment in our season, you have one of your best players go down to cancer," Hayes said. "He's a close friend of everyone, but cancer, it's a serious situation, it’s a sucky situation. It affects a lot of people. It just so happened this year, it affected our team. You never want to see anyone battling cancer but it happened and I think Oskar was a true professional about it. He didn’t wonder why me, why me. He just took it on, full head of steam and battled it.

"We obviously had his back the whole entire time, but I think it made us realize there is more than hockey. We want to win every single night and everyone wants to score goals every single night, but there’s some real stuff going on outside of hockey. I think our team got a taste of that this year and I think it brought our team together, for sure.

"If anyone on our team was having problems throughout the year, all you had to do was think of what Oskar was going through and your problems became very miniscule compared to his."

On and off the ice, Lindblom made the Flyers better in 2019-20. And he wants to put on that jersey again in the future.

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