Couturier Out for Season After Back Surgery; Ellis, Hayes Returns Uncertain
If the direction the Flyers season was heading wasn’t already abundantly clear, Friday’s news should have revealed everything the next two and a half months hold.
GM Chuck Fletcher met with the media on Friday morning in the wake of an announcement that Sean Couturier had undergone back surgery that morning and would be out for the remainder of the season. Fletcher said it would be about a three-month recovery.
“This wasn't an issue that was bothering him coming into this year,” Fletcher said. “I think he started having issues in the fall. Tried to battle through. We tried to treat things non-surgically. Couple epidurals to be exact and trying to resolve the issue that was there. Ultimately, you try to do your best to avoid back surgery if you can, but ultimately the doctor and Sean felt confident that the best way to resolve this going forward would be to have this surgical intervention. It was successful today.”
In addition, Fletcher didn’t have much to offer in terms of updates on Ryan Ellis or Kevin Hayes. For Ellis, time is running out to make a decision about the prospect of him playing this season. In the next couple of weeks, the determination to have surgery, thus officially putting an end to his season, is looming, but with the defenseman not skating at the moment, the writing seems to be on the wall.
“I know there’s been a lot of frustration from Ryan,” Fletcher said. “What's ailing him this year hasn’t ailed him before, so it’s hard to know how these things happen. He’s dealing with it the best he can. Again, at this point really our focus is on next year, trying to do what’s best for him and for our club going forward.”
As for Hayes, Fletcher said there is a “50-50” chance he returns this season, but noted he is still dealing with some things and could even require another surgery in the near future. Much like Ellis, it sounds like Hayes may not return either.
While Fletcher has and continues to state that there’s a lot of hockey left this season – and there is with 36 games still to be played – it isn’t going to result in anything more than playing out the remaining schedule as a formality. That makes the next area of focus pretty obvious.
“Right now, it’s been an extremely difficult season but there’s opportunities for the players that are here to show what they can do. I think there’s a great opportunity for our organization to look at ways to improve, whether it’s the trade deadline or this summer,” Fletcher said. “Going into next year, we have to take advantage of these opportunities, where it’s the players that are getting them or the management, coaching staff, looking at ways to get better for next year. It’s all looking forward now. How do we get better? There’s going to be opportunities for not just the players, but for our group to do that as well.”
That lends to more focus on the upcoming trade deadline and making moves that will hopefully have a positive impact on the franchise moving forward. With the official loss of the team’s top-line center, a top-pairing defenseman and second-line center potentially not returning, not to mention the looming trade possibility involving the team’s captain Claude Giroux, the process of starting the “retool” should be well underway. Certainly, trade deadline conversations have started to pick up.
“It started really about the last week,” Fletcher said. “Teams typically have their pro scouting meetings either late January through to mid-February. For example, our pro scouts are coming in next week. We’re going to have five days of meetings to get organized for the next couple months. Some teams have just finished; some teams are just starting. Usually coming out of those meetings, the level of communication increases, and that’s what we’re starting to see.”