The Philadelphia Flyers have locked up center Sean Couturier for presumably the rest of his National Hockey League career. On Thursday, the Flyers signed the 28-year-old to an eight-year contract extension that will kick in for the 2022-23 season after he completes his current contract. When the extension begins, the average annual value (AAV) on Couturier's contract will increase from its current $4.33 million to $7.75 million.
The first seven years of the extension include a full no-movement clause (NMC), per Flyers president of hockey operations and general manager Chuck Fletcher. The final season includes a partial no-trade clause.
"To be part of the Flyers organization for another eight years following next year is extremely exciting," Couturier said. "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."
The winner of the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward in 2019-20, Couturier finished as the top runner-up in the Selke voting two seasons earlier. On top of his prowess as a shutdown center who plays in all game situations, Couturier has notched a pair of 30-goal seasons in the NHL.
Over his last four seasons, Couturier has averaged 0.913 points per game. Even playing banged up physically last season during what was a slightly down year for him in his overall play and a very disappointing season for the team, he posted 18 goals and 41 points in 45 games.
Fletcher said on Wednesday that getting the deal with Couturier done early is beneficial both for the player and the organization. It takes away the player's contract status as a potential distraction hanging over everyone's heads. It also sets cost-certainty for the team to eventually start to plan a budget for the 2022-23 season.
"Sean is our best hockey player right now. If he had left, it would have significantly changed the direction of our team," Fletcher said. "It's a challenge to stay cap compliant and make it the best team you can make it. We know the numbers now and we can build accordingly."
If Couturier had opted to test the unrestricted free agent market next summer, especially if he has a strong 2021-22 season, he'd have stood to make considerably more than $7.75 million on the cap. The player opted instead for the security of knowing that he's signed for the next nine years (his remaining season on the deal he signed on July 28, 2015), whereas he could only have signed for seven years come the summer of 2022 had he waited and ultimately signed with a different NHL team.
There is a risk inherent to any contract of that length, especially for a player in his late 20s, to drop off in performance, health or both in his 30s. However, there's no reason right now to believe that Couturier cannot continue to be comparably effective to players such as Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (now 36), Los Angeles Anze Kopitar (34), and the St. Louis Blues' Ryan O'Reilly (30). Kopitar signed his current deal, which runs through 2023-24 and carries a $10 million AAV, at the age 28. Bergeron was 29 when he signed an eight-year extension with Boston in July 2013 with a $6.875 million AAV. O'Reilly, then with Buffalo, signed an extension in July 2015 that kicked in for the 2016-17 season and carries a $7.5 million cap hit. All of these players have won the Selke Trophy at least once, remain Selke contenders and are still very capable offensive players.
Couturier has also emerged over the years as a leader by example in the Flyers locker room. He plays through injuries whenever possible, never makes excuses and sets the competitive bar high although his is typically a soft-spoken and even-keeled personality.
"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. Throughout his 10-year career with the Flyers, he has proven to be the ultimate teammate. He carries an enormous presence inside our dressing room due to his preparation, determination and drive to win," Fletcher said.
Couturier has won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as Flyers MVP in each of the last three seasons. In 2020-21, he became only the third Flyer to win the award three straight times since its inception in 1984-85. He's the first player to accomplish the feat since Eric Lindros (1993-94, his Hart Trophy winning 1994-95 season and his Hart Trophy finalist season of 1995-96). Ron Hextall won the team MVP award in 1986-87, 1987-88 and 1988-89.
In terms of total Bobby Clarke Trophy selections, Flyers captain Claude Giroux leads all players in team history with five seasons of winning team MVP. Lindros won it four times. Couturier is tied with Mark Recchi and Hextall with three selections apiece.
"Sean is a cornerstone of this team, and we are thrilled that he'll be in Orange and Black for years to come," said Dave Scott, Governor of the Flyers. "With his leadership, grit, and ability on both ends of the ice, Sean is essential to the future of this team, and we couldn't be happier to keep him in Philadelphia for the long term."
Giroux, like Couturier prior to the extension, is signed only through the end of the 2021-22 season. Giroux has an $8.275 million AAV on the contract he signed on July 4, 2013. He will turn 34 on January 12, 2022. Fletcher indicated on Thursday that he's had discussions this summer with Giroux and agent Pat Brisson regarding an extension. The two sides expect to get down to brass tacks on a new contract following the 2021-22 season.
Couturier's new contract extension marks the second time in his career that he's signed an extension a full season ahead of potential free agency. Back in July 2015 preempted restricted agency the next year when he signed his current deal that runs through 2021-22. At the time, Couturier was represented by agent Gilles Lupien; a former NHL player. "Loopy", as he was affectionately nicknamed, passed away earlier this year at the age of 67. Couturier is now represented by Erik Lupien, Gilles' son.