If personal stats determine the value of Steve Downie to the Flyers, it’s an open and shut case. The 27-year-old unrestricted free-agent-to-be would be given his second farewell from the team that drafted him in the 1st round in 2005, and both parties would move on. But determining Downie’s worth goes beyond personal accolades, which makes him a bigger piece of the puzzle than meets the eye.
Numbers Can Be Deceiving
In 49 games with the Flyers this season, it’s safe to declare that Steve Downie is not in the Hart Trophy discussion. His three goals and 14 assists, along with a negative-one rating, could lead one to believe the Flyers came out on the losing side of the trade involving he and Max Talbot. After all, Talbot has given the playoff bound Colorado Avalanche 23 points in 65 games.
Although Downie has not been as reliable in point production, or health for that matter, his effect on the Flyers has been felt much deeper than Talbot’s. Consider the team’s overall record with and without Downie. With Downie, the orange and black are an impressive 31-13-5; without the rough and tough Downie, Philly is a daunting 8-16-4.
Updated: #Flyers with Steve Downie: 31-13-5
Flyers without Steve Downie: 8-16-4
— Flyers Nation (@FlyersNation) April 5, 2014
Since the Flyers win 62 percent of the time when Downie is on the ice and active, his lack of scoring can be immediately dispensed. Further proof lies within his seven-game absence; a span that has resulted in a 1-4-2 record for the Flyers. And despite Downie last recording a point on Mar. 5th in the fashion of a goal against the Washington Capitals, Philly was on an 8-2-1 run before the right winger suffered an upper-body injury against St. Louis on Mar. 22nd.
“He’s a really good hockey player,” said Vincent Lecavalier after defeating Buffalo back in November. “The media says he does these big hits and stuff like that, but he’s definitely much more. He’s a smart player. Like he did on that first goal there, not everybody can make those plays. He’s one of those guys that has the patience to take a second and make sure the other guy is open and then he makes the good pass to him.”
Since Downie and his minuscule 17 points with the Flyers this year are so pivotal to the team’s win-loss column, what gives? The value of Steve Downie can be seen in his role with players such as Sean Couturier and Matt Read.
“He (Craig Berube) seems to be onto something with the combo of Sean Couturier, Steve Downie and Matt Read. The line makes sense when you look at it, and they’ve been nearly impossible to stop over the last three contests. Since last Tuesday, the trio has produced five goals and 13 points.
“If your top line is scoring at that rate, then your team will be very difficult to stop. When it’s the third line though, it provides an incredible level of scoring depth that is hard for other squads to match up against. It isn’t like the line is just getting puck luck either.” — FanSided
Couturier, who is emerging as an elite shutdown forward, seems to be the top beneficiary of Downie’s presence on the ice. Since the Olympic break while playing with Downie, Couturier registered seven points with a plus-four rating. Without Downie, the 21-year-old center has taken a nose dive, recording just a single assist and a minus-three rating.
“On the breakout, he’s willing to take the hit to make that pass or make that play and he gives you an extra second or two to skate,” explained Couturier. “He’s been a big part of the success of our line.”
Much of Matt Read’s success can also be attributed to Downie. Since the break, Read vaporized goalies, as well as power play units. The 20-goal scorer found the back of the net four times, while assisting on five other goals. Two of Read’s four goals with Downie in the lineup were scored shorthanded. With youngster Tye McGinn in Downie’s place since the break, Read has one goal and a minus-three rating. Coincidence? You be the judge.
Future With The Flyers
As previously mentioned, Downie is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. GM Paul Holmgren may elect to re-sign Downie, who just turned 27, or opt to roll with Tye McGinn. The decision isn’t as easy as it may seem, however.
McGinn on line with Couturier and Read. Downie is out.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) March 24, 2014
Downie’s recent absence due to injury is hardly his first throughout his second tour of duty with the Flyers. In his first appearance after the trade, Downie suffered a concussion after fighting Aaron Volpatti of the Washington Capitals. In December, Downie missed a block of games due to yet another upper-body injury, a discouraging trend. In last year’s lockout-shortened season, the multi-talented forward laced up his skates for only two games due to a knee injury.
“It’s never fun to sit and watch the guys go to battle every night,” said Downie after Philadelphia’s Mar. 28th victory over Toronto. “I’m getting close to coming back, so I’m excited.”
Berube on Downie: "His intensity level is not where it needs to be, shift to shift."
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) January 12, 2014
But then there’s the undisciplined play, which led to Downie missing several games as a healthy scratch. His intensity was even challenged by Berube, who grew frustrated with the veteran at times.
“I think Steve’s intensity level isn’t high enough on a shift-to-shift basis,” said Berube back in January. “I think he’s got to find that intensity. He’s got to be playing on the edge without being undisciplined.”
Much speculation, however, concludes that Downie’s intensity issue was injury-related, which further adds to the concern of his durability. Even with the slap on the wrist for his sluggish play earlier in the season, Downie responded with little concern.
“Well, I’ve never had that problem in my career before, so I don’t think it’s going to be a tough fix,” said Downie. “I’m not going to make any excuses. I haven’t been playing my best hockey, that’s obvious. Whether it’s intensity or not … I haven’t been playing well.”
Downie’s contract is not the only expiring contract of forwards who could potentially fit into his current role. McGinn, who is 23, will be a restricted free agent and stands to be the cheaper option of the two. The younger brother of Colorado’s Jamie McGinn has shown a scoring touch in 54 games in AHL Adirondack. McGinn’s 35 points stands at third among Phantoms scorers, although his minus-20 rating is a cause for concern.
“At this point, McGinn’s future with the club is up in the air. He’ll almost certainly be resigned and continue to play top-line minutes in the AHL, but barring injury or a trade that sees the Flyers sending forwards away for non-forward return, there isn’t any room for McGinn on this Flyers roster. One assumes that this will not always be the case. It’s always nice to see some home-grown talent crack the lineup, and McGinn may just be the next in line. Time will tell.” — Broad Street Hockey
The decision to re-sign Downie, however, stands to be a difficult one. His impact is irrefutable, but his injuries are impossible to ignore. Paul Holmgren and the Flyers will have to focus on earning a playoff berth before figuring out the hard stuff. How ironic, though, that they’ll need Steve Downie to do just that.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.