It's been a few years in the making but the time has finally arrived where Sean Couturier should rightfully be awarded the Selke Trophy for the 2019-20 season.
Back in October from the jump, there were murmurs about Couturier and if he'd be able to sustain his success in recent seasons and expand his role even further. Couturier was named a Selke finalist for the first time of his career in 2017-18 - and while he made quite the case for himself back then - he's only grown as a player since.
There's no denying it this time around - Couturier deserves to win.
While the Flyers did make the playoffs in 2017-18, the team wasn't necessarily deemed a threat - rather there were threatening pieces. After posting a 10-game winless streak in the regular season, it was difficult to rally around the team as a whole, but thanks to Couturier's stellar season combined with the best year of Claude Giroux's career - it nudged its way into the postseason.
Things are a little different this time around, but if you've been following the Flyers - I'm sure you know that. It took a little bit of time before the team, with new additions on and off the ice, reached its potential, but once it did - eyes around the league were on the Flyers. A big part of that, of course, was Couturier.
By definition from the NHL, the Frank J. Selke Trophy is awarded annually "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
Since the trophy was first awarded following the completion of the 1977-78 season, only two Flyers have ever won the title - Bob Clarke in 1982-83 and Dave Poulin in 1986-87. So while Couturier would be in little company, that is quite a special short list of names to be a part of.
While the recipient of the award is highly noted for their defensive play, it ultimately goes to an athlete who plays a solid and successful 200-foot game.
Prior to the season even starting, I had been a firm believer that this was finally Couturier's year. As other members of the NBC Sports Philadelphia staff gathered their parts for a fearless forecast, I stood firm on one aspect of this season - and that was Couturier was winning the Selke.
Here is my excerpt from Oct. 3, 2019:
Couturier for Selke? Couturier for Selke!
Sean Couturier was a Selke finalist back in 2017-18 but fell short in the voting last season and ... it's still uncertain as to why. Couturier put up near-identical numbers the past two seasons and, if anything, his two-way game has only continued to improve.
Maybe it was because of his slow start in October. This time last year, he was coming off an injury, but now? Couturier is going into this season hungry.
I expect him to reach career-best numbers with at least 80 points and he will also be a Selke finalist. He'll finally get the national recognition he deserves - or at least I'm hoping, since he was not even ranked as a top-20 center in the league this past offseason. (I had him at 15, though.)
Is it too soon to start a #CootsForSelke hashtag?
Now that the regular season has officially wrapped, it's definitely time to get that hashtag rolling again. Heck, it's something Flyers fans have been pushing for months.
Shows how good he is. Every line he's on, they usually shut down the opposing top line. #CootsForSelke— Eric Hoeflich (@ehoeflich97) January 14, 2020
That's what I said as I saw it on replay... Live, I thought he caught a break... Coots is one smart Hockey Player... #CootsForSelke— 🏒Let'sGoFlyers🏒OskarStrong (@Lets_Go__Flyers) February 19, 2020
Not to mention, in the Professional Hockey Writers Association's 2019-20 midseason awards, Couturier was leading the way to win it all. Those following No. 14 were not shy to the Selke Trophy - Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (four-time winner) was right behind him and Blues' Ryan O'Reilly (last season's winner) followed suit.
"He plays that full 200-foot game, but he's also got some good offensive abilities," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault noted back in December. "He goes to the net hard, you see him a lot times challenging defensemen 1-on-1 and not being afraid to bring that puck and go to the tough areas. He's got the ability to make plays with the puck, he plays power play and penalty killing and 5-on-5."
So, has anything changed since the midway point of the season among Couturier (additional 19 games), Bergeron (additional 19 games) and O'Reilly (additional 22 games) that should alter those numbers?
Through those games, Couturier registered 16 points (nine goals, seven assists), Bergeron 15 points (10 goals, five assists) and O'Reilly 18 points (three goals, 15 assists). With the regular season officially concluded, Couturier ended the year with 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists), Bergeron 56 points (31 goals, 25 assists) and O'Reilly 61 points (12 goals, 49 assists).
In reality, the only part that needs to be changed is Bergeron and O'Reilly, making the Blues' center runner-up. While O'Reilly officially ended the season with more points, he also had two more games on Couturier. If the full 82 games were completed, both players were projected to finish the season with 70 points.
So, what gives the Flyers' center the edge over the rest? The importance he has to his team.
As the season progressed, it became more evident that Couturier is the most important player. Oftentimes, he is the go-to guy in terms of matching up against some of the best in the league. He is capable of outplaying, outsmarting and outwitting whoever opposes him and those abilities continue to strengthen as he heads into the prime of his career.
In 2019-20, he averaged 19:20 of ice time, was first on the team in faceoffs (59.6 percent), tied for second in assists and third in goals.
Philadelphia has already given Couturier the respect he deserves with his career, but it's time the NHL as a whole does so as well. Let's start that by giving him the Selke.
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