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Over The Boards | Dan Rosen

Over The Boards

Mailbag: Couturier's impact on Flyers top line

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Jan. 10 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday throughout the 2017-18 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

What are your thoughts on Sean Couturier and how he has emerged offensively this season, as well as on the bounce-back seasons for both Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux in comparison to last season? -- @mac_attack54

I think back to a preseason game I was at between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It was Giroux's second game playing on the wing with Couturier in the middle and Voracek on the other wing. I remember Flyers coach Dave Hakstol was asked if part of his reasoning for wanting to experiment with Giroux on the wing had to do with the idea that it puts Couturier in a better position to produce more. Hakstol agreed that it was a byproduct of the decision. That the Flyers also had rookie center Nolan Patrick and veteran center Valtteri Filppula made the decision to move Giroux, who struggled last season with 58 points, a low for him in a full season since 2009-10 when he had 47, to the wing even more reasonable. Giroux needed a change and moving him to the wing would free him up to be more offensive. 

Couturier for his first six seasons had been put in a mostly defensive role, playing against top lines and on the penalty kill. In fact, Couturier had the most shorthanded minutes (1,032:41) of any Flyers forward in six seasons from 2011-17. He hadn't been given much of a chance to showcase his offensive skills, but it was clear that he had some, especially since he was a dominant scorer in Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before the Flyers selected him with the No. 8 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.

With all that in mind, it's not surprising that Couturier has become one of the Flyers' most dominant offensive players. He needed the chance, the right opportunity. His 23 goals and 42 points are proof that he is one of the most complete players in the League. Ironically, the better offensive numbers have improved his reputation around the League and might give him a better chance to win the Selke Trophy, a defensive award. That matters in the voting process. Couturier, who finished eighth in Selke Trophy voting in the 2015-16 season, is plus-14. He leads Philadelphia forwards in shorthanded ice time (80:26 total, 1:54 per game). That the Flyers ranked 29th on the penalty kill entering Tuesday (75.0 percent), doesn't help his cause, but at 5-on-5, Couturier is scoring and driving possession. He is first among Philadelphia's forwards with a 54.36 shot-attempts percentage.

Video: BUF@PHI: Couturier hammers Giroux's pass for PPG

As for Voracek and Giroux, each is an elite talent so it's not all that surprising they've bounced back. Giroux, as mentioned above, needed a change of pace, something to spark him. The move to the wing has done that. Voracek remains one of the League's elite playmakers from the wing. If the Flyers can get some second-half production from Patrick, who has been disappointing (eight points in 33 games), and depth forwards like Travis Konecny, Jordan Weal, Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton, they might be a Stanley Cup Playoff team.

 

Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan's fiery speech in practice went viral and got mixed reactions from Flames fans. What do you think? Effective, or not? -- @StanfordJer

Time will tell, but I loved it. Now, mind you, I'm not a Flames player, nor am I the stick that Gulutzan swung and long-tossed into the stands (terrific throw, by the way) during his tirade in practice Friday, but this is a long season, a grind, and tempers flare. Gulutzan didn't like what he was seeing and probably doesn't like where the Flames are in the standings, so he let everybody know how he was feeling. Most importantly, he didn't single anybody out and blame them for why practice wasn't going as planned. He didn't rip into one aspect of the team either. He was hot about their effort in practice, so he sent a message. That happens. A coach doesn't have as much control as he would like to have when it comes to effort and intensity. All he can control when it comes to those things is ice time. He decides who plays and who doesn't. But when he goes off on a tirade like that, it tends to get the attention of everybody on the team. Seriously, would anybody be surprised if come April we're looking back at Gulutzan's tirade Jan. 5 as a turning point in Calgary's season? I wouldn't be.

 

Do you understand the reasoning behind Alain Vigneault not playing Pavel Buchnevich more even though he produces points at a first-line rate and gets on average third-line ice time? -- @MattFitz2838

If I could steal a line from Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson, my answer is yes and no.

Buchnevich is a supremely talented forward and he looks like a cornerstone piece of the Rangers' future. He should play in a top-six or top-nine role, never dropping to the fourth line, and probably more than the 14:44 per game he's getting, although we can debate that because he's not on the penalty kill and the Rangers go more with balanced ice time than most teams (they don't have a forward averaging more than 18:56 per game). I also don't think he should be a healthy scratch, like he was against the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday.

But I say all those things as someone not in the room, who doesn't see everything in Buchnevich's game that the coaching staff does, who doesn't know everything Vigneault wants out of him and who doesn't know if Vigneault was trying to send a message to the 22-year-old before the Rangers went on their five-day break. Be careful not to overreact about the scratch. Buchnevich should be back in the lineup when the Rangers play the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Video: FLA@NYR: Buchnevich one-times Kreider's nice feed

Buchnevich has 26 points in 41 games, solid numbers but not good enough that he's immune to criticism. He's on pace for about 50 points. It's a stretch to call those first-line numbers, but with the Rangers they are because of their balance. The thing that irks me with Buchnevich is that there are times when he disappears offensively and passes up shots he should take. He's at his best when he's shot hungry. He has no goals on 14 shots in his past 10 games and one goal on 21 shots in 14 games since Dec. 8. He has 40 shot attempts in the past 14 games. Part of why his numbers aren't better can certainly be attributed to usage. Part of it can be attributed to his game falling off a bit. He needs to pick it up when the Rangers come back from the break. Vigneault needs to let him.

 

Could you see Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman going "all-in" and acquiring Mike Green? -- @BoltsGuy04

Yes, but if the Lightning stay healthy and stay on their current trajectory leading up to the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26, I'd counter by asking you if they need someone like Green?

Green's attributes as a defenseman with offensive instincts who specializes on the power play certainly fit into the Lightning's model, but they're already leading the League in scoring and have one of the best power plays. Would the cost of acquiring Green be worth it? Can he make the Lightning exponentially better than they already are? It's debatable.

Video: DET@PHI: Green scores after pretty passing play

 

Assuming Seattle gains an NHL franchise, division realignment seems critical. Any prediction to what the divisions might look like? -- @Ant_Moccia27

The Western Conference would have to juggle, so I'd move the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers into the Central Division and bump the Colorado Avalanche into the Pacific Division, where, obviously, the new team in Seattle (Metropolitans) would be located. You keep the Battle of Alberta and give Colorado a chance to have a geographic rivalry with the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes. 

You'd be moving two Mountain time zone teams into the Central (Edmonton and Calgary) and switching one out; the Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues each are Central time zone teams. The Pacific Division would feature five or six Pacific time zone teams, depending on the time of year, and two or three Mountain time zone teams. Arizona fluctuates between Mountain and Pacific time zones.

I'd leave the Eastern Conference as is.

 

Would there be a big roster turnover if the Minnesota Wild missed the playoffs this season? With the Central Division being as tough as it is, would they need to change anything drastic in the offseason? -- @boyat_z

It's hard to predict roster turnover in a cap league, especially when the Wild have a lot of their so-called core players signed for at least two more seasons beyond this one. But I think the Wild need a jolt that wouldn't necessarily throw their roster out of whack but would make an impact on how they are perceived around the League. 

Bear with me here, but I think a fair comparison for the Wild is the Columbus Blue Jackets from last season. Say what you want about the Blue Jackets' regular-season success last season, when they finished with 108 points, in many respects they overachieved with a deep roster that didn't have one truly dynamic player on it. The Wild appear to have a solid roster too and quality goaltending, just like Columbus, but who is Minnesota's dynamic forward? Who is the dazzling playmaker who, when you need a goal, is on the ice? That's a big reason the Blue Jackets acquired forward Artemi Panarin, for his dynamic element. Ironically, Columbus is on pace to finish with fewer points this season than last season, but I'd argue that's in large part because of injuries. When healthy, the Blue Jackets are a more dangerous team with Panarin than they were without him. That's the missing ingredient in Minnesota. Without it, the Wild are OK, but OK might not be good enough in the Central Division. It's a division with dynamic star power featuring Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, P.K. Subban, Filip Forsberg and Nathan MacKinnon. The Wild need someone like that. 

 

Are you sold on Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray being a No. 1? I know it's his first full season, but I think people had higher expectations. Have yours been met? -- @yourstrulylucas

My expectations of Murray this season haven't been met, but I think he's a No. 1. He has the makeup and the talent. We know he thrives under pressure. He has proven that in the playoffs. Murray needs to stay healthy. That has been an issue with him since he broke into the NHL. And, now, he needs to get mentally dialed in for an important second half. He needs his team to play better in front of him on a consistent basis too. The Penguins haven't done that.

Video: BOS@PIT: Murray stones Marchand's late penalty shot

Murray's play in relief of Tristan Jarry in the Penguins' 6-5 overtime win against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, especially his save on Brad Marchand's penalty shot with 1:01 remaining in the third period, should be a confidence builder. However, I wonder if Murray's confidence ever wavers. He's stoic. That's one of the things that impressed me about him in covering the Penguins for their last two Cup runs. He still has time to start meeting expectations. I'm sold.

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