Untouchable Flyers, More than Giroux & Voracek

The accepted belief that Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are the only untouchable Flyers is a dangerous thought process. In reality, this exclusive list extends beyond Philly’s pair of top point scorers. But with fading playoff hopes, and a salary cap deficit of $4.591 million, it’s evident that Kimmo Timonen will not be the last to be dealt.

When it comes to making trades, however, GM Ron Hextall may want to reconsider before pulling the trigger on potential deals for the following players.

Sean Couturier

Sean Couturier's defensive abilities, along with his age, make him one of the few untouchable Flyers. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
Sean Couturier’s defensive abilities, along with his age, make him one of the few untouchable Flyers. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

There’s a reason why Philadelphia’s shutdown center is in high demand. Skating in his fourth NHL season, it’s easy to see how some may forget the Phoenix-born forward is just 22 years of age.

Couturier’s role on not only the Flyers’ shutdown line, but the penalty kill as well, illustrates just how important he is to Craig Berube’s team. But that’s not all the former first-round pick offers.

Through 62 games, the fourth-year veteran is one goal shy of tying his career-high of 13 goals, which he’s reached twice in his first three seasons. And although many look at his 26 points heading into Feb. 28’s game against New York as a sign that he’s yet to take that next step offensively, there’s certainly an explanation.

Couturier’s 12 goals and 14 assists don’t seem so weak when factoring in the fact that no other skater in the lineup sees more defensive zone starts than Couturier’s minus-16.4 percent five-on-five fraction of zone start percentage. He and Matt Read’s team-leading 17.8 percent time on ice competition percent show that he’s logging the team’s toughest minutes, against the best competition, while still finding a way to lead the line he skated with for the majority of the season in scoring.

Without their two-way pillar in the lineup, the defense isn’t the only phase of the game that would suffer. Despite showing a 50 percent success rate in the faceoff circle, Couturier’s 511 wins on the draw trails only Claude Giroux for the team lead. The next closest in faceoff wins is Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who has 262 wins. That’s a significant drop off.

“Couts has been one of our top players all year,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. “Defensively he’s really responsible and obviously we want him against top players on the other side.”

If former GM Paul Holmgren was unwilling to deal the 6-3, 197-pound center in the past, including a potential deal that might have landed Rick Nash, what makes Hextall, or anyone else for that matter, think there’s a return out there now that makes sense?

While the Flyers are in dire need of opening cap space, Couturier still fits Hextall’s well-known long-term vision. With a year left on the left handed shooting forward’s two-year bridge contract, moving $1.75 million worth of cap space wouldn’t create enough space to justify moving Couturier. Especially when factoring in his status as a restricted free agent after next season.

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“Look at the history of the deadline: it’s a pricy time,” said Hextall. “To get something better than what we have, we’re giving a lot up. That’s not gonna happen. We know where we’re headed and we’re still headed there. I’m not deferring of course of where we set out last summer.”

Couturier appears to be safe, as he should be. It’d take an offer that wouldn’t even make sense in a video game to lure their young veteran away from the organization. Consider him untouchable.

Wayne Simmonds

Wayne Simmonds brings scoring, energy, and physicality, all qualities that make him one of the untouchable Flyers. (Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)
Wayne Simmonds brings scoring, energy, and physicality, all qualities that make him one of the untouchable Flyers. (Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

If the Flyers are feeling the impact of Scott Hartnell’s absence this season, what sense does moving Wayne Simmonds at the moment make?

With Hartnell in Columbus, and the team’s Broad Street Bullies identity now in the past, Simmonds’ presence in the lineup is that much more valuable. Not only does the Scarborough, Ontario native lead the team in goals with 24, he does so as Philly’s best power forward.

Known for his mastery on the man advantage – 45 power play points dating back to the start of last season – Simmonds knows how to get greasy, earning his money in front of the net. The 26-year-old’s 10 even-strength goals through 62 games is not only tied with Michael Raffl for the team lead, but also proves those who dubbed him as merely a power play specialist wrong.

“The way I scored goals my first couple years here is on the power play, in front of the net, getting those backdoor passes,” said Simmonds. “Teams are starting to key on that, teams are starting to shut that down. It’s me trying to add versatility to my game and adjust. As the League figures out your strong points, you have to adjust to where you can contribute somewhere else.

“I want to be a go-to guy on this team. I want to be someone that can help in all situations. That’s what I’m trying to build my game around.”

It’s not just the versatility in his own game that makes Simmonds so coveted. The seventh-year veteran has skated on the Flyers’ first three lines, giving coach Craig Berube an option throughout the lineup to get his team going when needed. Add in the reality that Simmonds is among the team’s top fighters as well, and the case for making the alternate captain untouchable grows.

He’s a team leader, an assistant captain, a physical force and a reliable 25-30 goal scorer.

Plus, Simmonds is just 26, so he should have a number of good years in front of him. — Paula Wolf, Lancaster Online

Simmonds’ age matters just as much as Couturier’s, if not more. At 26, he’s in the prime of his career as a power forward, since it’s widely noted that a player’s decline in that role begins around the age of 30. The former Los Angeles King is locked into a bargain of a contract, costing Hextall’s cap an AAV of $3.975 million until he reaches… you guessed it, age 30.

If Hextall was willing to pass on acquiring the number one overall pick in last year’s draft for the reason of parting with Simmonds, a trade involving the fan favorite is highly unlikely anytime soon. Remember, the Flyers blue line could have had Aaron Ekblad, with Vinny Lecavalier’s contract off the books.

The buck stopped, of course, when Panthers GM Dale Tallon wanted Simmonds to sweeten the pot. Good luck finding an offer better than that one. Simmonds is untouchable as well.

Michael Raffl

Michael Raffl's high ceiling, along with his team-leading 57.4 percent SAT percentage makes him one of the few untouchable Flyers. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Michael Raffl’s high ceiling, along with his team-leading 57.4 percent SAT percentage makes him one of the few untouchable Flyers. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

If Kimmo Timonen and Jaromir Jagr are fetching second-round draft picks before Monday’s trade deadline, it’d be interesting to see what interested GM’s of Michael Raffl would offer. As intriguing as it may be, let’s not find out.

In just his second season in the league, Philly’s Austrian forward is knocking on stardom’s door, despite tallying only 16 points in 47 outings. Raffl, who’s missed 15 games this season due to various ailments, is an immediate impact player, one that has served as the orange and black’s best option on the top line’s left wing position.

The Flyers have a player in Michael Raffl who essentially offers everything the overly hyped Schenn has shown to be, but they still are in dire need for a physical and scoring-capable left wing to put next to Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. — Rob Parent, Delaware County Daily Times

Although Raffl enters Saturday’s contest against the Rangers on a six-game scoreless drought, his enhanced statistics remain stellar.

You will not find a player on the Flyers roster that tops Raffl’s 57.4 percent five-on-five SAT percentage, despite seeing less offensive zone starts than league scoring leader Jakub Voracek by nearly a full eight percent.

“He’s a good two-way player and penalty killer,” Berube said of Raffl back in January. “I didn’t think there was room on the power play for him. Maybe. So far there hasn’t been. I think he is a versatile guy. He can play any position. You can put him at center or either wing. He’s good at going up and down the lineup.”

Naturally, it doesn’t take a book for dummies to see why other teams would sniff around on the former Olympian who skated in Sochi last year. With an AAV of $1.1 million through next season, Raffl gives the Flyers a great bang for their buck.

Never mind the 6-1, 192-pounder’s team-leading 58.9 percent Scoring Chances-for percentage at even-strength. Raffl’s points per cap hit for the current season measures out at 14.545, which trails only four other skaters with a winged “P” on their sweaters.

Much like Couturier, and even Simmonds in comparison to some of the Flyers’ other contracts, trading Raffl would not only do limited good in opening up breathing room within the salary cap, it’d also be another classic example of the organization living up to their reputation of giving up on young talent before it fully develops.

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By definition, no player is truly “untouchable,” not even Claude Giroux, or Jakub Voracek. The likelihood of receiving a fair offer for these “untouchable Flyers,” though, is what really makes them off-limits, or at least should.

Yes, we all love the franchise players. But trade away players like the ones listed above, and the franchise suffers significantly – both today, and tomorrow.

Ron Hextall knows this, or at least I hope he does.