On April 9, the final day of the NHL’s 82-game regular season, the Philadelphia Flyers took to the ice at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. It was a game that was almost meaningless for the Flyers; there was still a big swing in terms of draft position on the line.
The season for the Flyers was one of disappointment. Coming into it, expectations were low. Fans expected the team to at least be in the playoff battle. However, this was a season that featured a 10-game winning streak for the team from November to December, placing them in the top few of the league standings.
To say that expectations were high for them at that point would be a major understatement.
Hitting a rut directly after that streak, they began to tumble out of the playoff picture and then out of the playoffs entirely. Blame can be spread around the team; the stars weren’t performing like major stars, the defense wasn’t performing up to par, the goaltending was shaky at points, and interesting lineup decisions were made. But, at times, a lot of blame went to players who were under-performing in their respective roles.
One of those player was forward Sean Couturier.
Couturier, known as ‘Coots’ to the Flyers faithful, entered the final game of the Flyers season with 13 goals and 18 assists for 31 points in 65 games. The 6th year veteran, age of 24, was struggling in these offensive numbers as compared to last year. Last year, his 11-goal, 28-assist, 39-point campaign earned him the ever-rising hopes of Flyers fans.
With his diminishing offensive numbers this year, the hope that many fans were having began to diminish. The 2011 8th overall pick was touted for not only his defensive ability, but his offensive ability as well. There was reason to be excited by him; in his last 2 of his 3 seasons with Drummondville of the QMJHL, he reached 96 points each year. Those were incredible numbers to put up, and anyone in their right mind would be excited over them.
But, that hope has not come to any fruition. The most points that Couturier has ever had in one season is 39, and besides last year, he hit the mark in 2013-14. In fact, Couturier never really started to put up consistent numbers this season until the last few months. Injuries have not helped him; he’s missed 35 out of a possible 164 games the past 2 years.
Taking all of this into consideration, Couturier has gotten better this year. In a big way, too. Yes. Take that in. Now let me explain.
An Explanation of Advanced Statistics
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
When you look at statistics in any light, it’s absolutely vital to know what you are reading about. Besides the normal stats in hockey, there are stats that are more advanced, so to speak. The ones we will be talking about are described below in terms of Sean Couturier.
Corsi For % (CF%): The number of shots on goal, shots that miss the net, and shots blocked for the Flyers when Couturier is on the ice divided by the Flyers and opposing team’s total shots on goal, shots that miss the net, and shots blocked. 50% is absolutely average. The usual fluctuation is around 45%-55%.
Corsi For % Rel. (CF% Rel.): Couturier’s CF% as compared to the rest of the Flyers roster when he is on the ice. A positive value is best. Fluctuations depend on the team and player.
Fenwick For % (FF%): The number of shots on goal and shots that miss the net for the Flyers when Couturier is on the ice divided by the Flyers and opposing team’s total shots on goal and shots that miss the net. 50% is absolutely average. The usual fluctuation is around 45%-55%.
Fenwick For % Rel. (FF% Rel.): Couturier’s FF% as compared to the rest of the Flyers roster when he is on the ice. A positive value is best. Fluctuations depend on the team and player.
PDO: The Flyers’ save percentage plus shot percentage when Couturier is on the ice. This is an odd statistic; the closer to 100.0% a player is, the better. The idea of this stat is that if a player is under 100.0%, they are under-performing and/or getting unlucky (or just bad), and if they are over 100.0%, they are over-performing and/or getting lucky (or just amazing). The usual fluctuation is around 97.0%-103.0%.
Offensive Zone Start % (oZS%): The percentage of offensive zone faceoffs Couturier takes while on the ice as compared to the defensive zone. This stat doesn’t take neutral zone faceoffs into consideration.
Defensive Zone Start % (dSZ%): The percentage of defensive zone faceoffs Couturier takes while on the ice as compared to the offensive zone. This stat doesn’t take neutral zone faceoffs into consideration.
We will be talking about all these numbers in terms of even strength. These numbers are important because they are able to provide context in areas that are not normally looked at as much as the normal stats (points, goals, etc.).
Coots in Context
Sean Couturier is a great defensive forward, and those types of players are rare. However, they may tend to have better advanced stats than most players. Keep that in mind. However, I don’t think it is true with Couturier.
SIDENOTE: Numbers are taken without the final game of the regular season in mind. Players must have played 41 games by team of publishing.
Taking a look at his 2016-17 CF%, he sits 2nd on the team with 54.4%. In 3rd sits Claude Giroux, who is a full percentage point behind Couturier. In first is actually Matt Read with 54.5%. In 2015-16, he sat in 8th place on the team with 52.4%. For context, Michael Raffl finished 1st with 54.0%. Rising a full two percentage points is huge in this stat, and on a team which had very streaky stretches, it’s even bigger.
His FF% is also extremely impressive this year; he is again 2nd with 55.0%. Matt Read has 55.0% as well, but is in 1st due to some more decimal points that cannot be seen with the naked eye. In 2015-16, he sat again in 8th with 51.5%.
In both of these stats, his numbers have risen over the past 2 years. While Corsi and Fenwick may be a team stat due to other players possibly helping sandbag an individual’s numbers, it can be reliable by using other stats.
Looking at CF% Rel. and FF% Rel. numbers are very helpful in determining how much a player has hurt and helped his team while they are out on the ice. Couturier’s CF% Rel. this season is 1st at 4.5%, a full 0.5% above Matt Read in 2nd. His 2015-16 CF% Rel. is 2.1% (9th place).
His FF% Rel. is also much better than it was last year and compared to the team this year. This year, he is 1st with 4.3%. That’s a full 0.7% more than 2nd place. Last year, he was in 9th with 1.0%.
Basically, those numbers mean the Flyers are able to generate more scoring opportunities with him on the ice than any other player on the team this year. That’s entirely different from last year when he was only around the middle in terms of rankings. He has not only been better by a tiny bit either; the fact that he is at least 0.5% more than other players is absolutely phenomenal.
Now, we have to look at PDO. In general, the Flyers have been under-performing in this department this season, with the majority of players faring below 100.0%. Last year, this was different; a lot of players were over 100.0% and over-performing, which should come to no one’s surprise considering the late-season playoff push last year.
For Couturier, he is at 100.4% this year and 2nd on the team behind Pierre-Edouard Bellemere. Being at 100.0% means the player was performing exactly where he should be performing. So, Couturier being near that middle-ground is a good indicator that he was neither lucky nor unlucky but performed at an expected level. Last year, he was 4th at 101.8%. Going to 100.0% is not regressing, and it isn’t a bad thing, but it provides good context.
Lastly, there can be an easy explanation for his lower offensive scoring numbers, and that has to do with how coach Dave Hakstol has used him on the ice. How often a player is used for offensive and defensive zone draws can show how the entire of their shift will go. Couturier’s 2015-16 oZS% is 43.4% and 2nd to last on the team. His dZS% was 56.6% and 2nd on the team. Obviously, Hakstol sees a use for him on a defensive basis, and he is right in doing so. However, this can explain why he was around the mid-way point in terms of CF% and FF% on the team last season.
This year, he has taken part of less offensive draws with a oZS% of 42.5%. This is 2.9% less than Radko Gudas, and it means Coots has taken by far the smaller amounts of faceoffs in the offensive zone than any other Flyer. He has also taken more draws in the defensive zone with a dZS% of 57.5%, which is also 2.9% ahead of Radko Gudas for 1st on the team. Couturier has had a huge amount of defensive zone draws as compared to last year.
What does this all mean? In means that Sean Couturier has done the best in points this season as he could. With more reliance on him defensively by Dave Hakstol, Couturier has performed better in CF%, FF%, CF% Rel. and FF% Rel. this season as compared to last. Being among he top players (and sometimes being the top player) in these stats shows how much the Flyers rely on Couturier defensively. Also, this could provide some truth to the opinion that Valterri Filppula’s addition has helped lift some of the defensive load off of Coots.
For Sean Couturier’s offensive stock to rise, he needs to be allowed to play more freely in the offensive zone. However, his value is so high that he is worth more playing defensive hockey than he would be on the offensive side. As much as people like to place reliance on a player’s worth by looking at the offensive numbers of a forward’s game, there is more than meets the eye. If Sean Couturier is able to play offensive hockey, he’ll get more points. But, his play this season has mightily improved over last season.
Don’t take Couturier’s lack of offensive scoring as a deterrent; he has done amazingly well for the situations he has been put in.
Dylan Coyle is a writer and the founder of Good Night, Good Hockey. He is also a Philadelphia Flyers, HersheyBears, and Reading Royals reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanRCoyle_BSH.