Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography
On Monday, the Flyers went through their exit interviews with both GM Ron Hextall and Head Coach Craig Berube. Berube addressed the media afterwards regarding several topics, one of which was Sean Couturier’s struggle to find his offensive game. He told Frank Seravalli the following:
Bergeron starts all those shifts in his own end. He seems to come out OK, right? You’re telling me Couturier starts in the defensive zone too much. Well, that’s his job.
It’s difficult to put a finger on just how many different ways Berube is wrong here. But let’s give it a shot anyway.
First off, using Patrice Bergeron as the comparison here is i n s a n e. Bergeron is a 29 year old Stanley Cup and Selke Trophy winner who is widely regarded as one of the best two way players in the game. He does a lot of things that most players can’t do. The few players who can do those things are typically older than 22, and also typically do not play with guys like RJ Umberger.
In his four years of NHL play, Sean Couturier has one season (2013-14) in which he had an offensive zone start% over 40%. This past season he started just 39.75% of his shifts there. In fact, no forward with over 1000 minutes played had a lower offensive zone start % than Couturier.
In 2014-15, Bergeron started over 43% of his shifts in the offensive zone. He has never started less than 41% of his shifts in the offensive zone for a full season in the NHL. In 14-15, Bergeron started shifts in the offensive zone over 100 times more than Couturier.
Bergeron’s most common linemates during the 14-15 season are as follows: Brad Marchand, Reilly Smith, Dennis Seidenberg, Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton.
Couturier’s most common linemates? A one-legged Matt Read, Nick Schultz, RJ Umberger, Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.
Given the talent differences between Bergeron and Couturier, expecting Couturier to produce at a similar rate while playing in even tougher situations is just not realistic.
Of the 40 forwards in the league with the lowest OZSt%, there are only four who were also in the top 40 in terms of quality of competition (sorted by Corsi Rel%). Their names were Sean Couturier, Paul Gaustad, Eric Nystrom and David Jones. Are those players who are expected to make significant offensive contributions? (No).
We’re trying to make a little bit of an excuse that I’m using him too much in the defensive zone. For him to develop as a better player and a better offensive player, he’s got to learn how to produce starting in the DZ.
Ho boy. Not sure where to start with this one. I’m going to give Berube the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is talking about moving the puck out of the defensive zone and creating offensive opportunities afterwards.
The problem here is that Couturier has been doing that pretty well. During each of the previous two seasons, Couturier controlled the puck during just 48% of his offensive zone entries. During the first 60 games of 2014-15, he had controlled over 54% of offensive zone entries. At the same time, he is second amongst all Flyers forwards in terms of successful defensive zone exits. All of this has been alongside linemates who aren’t exactly opening up a lot of ice for him to work with. Couturier has gotten better at initiating offense starting in the defensive zone. You shouldn’t really need stats to notice that.
There is, however, a limit to how much a player can develop offensively when he is asked so frequently to start at the other end of the ice. It’s quite possible that Couturier has reached his. Expecting Couturier to produce like Patrice Bergeron when used in this manner is nothing short of insane, and it’s very alarming that Craig Berube doesn’t see it that way.