When the Claude Giroux sweepstakes ended in a deal with the Florida Panthers, the Flyers wrapped up an era that spanned nearly a decade. “G,” despite logging 1000 games with the Orange and Black and at times being one of the league’s most effective forwards, saw his tenure as captain defined by stop-start playoff runs and ending in an organizational slump. The next captain, whoever he is, will be responsible for maintaining morale and exhibiting leadership both on the ice and in the locker room as the team embarks on a long-overdue rebuild. Below, the Flyers’ best options are graded based on their suitability for the job.
An indefinitely vacant captaincy is indicative of either a team in search of a formative identity, like the Golden Knights before Mark Stone staked his claim to the “C,” or one devoid of effective veteran leadership, like the Oilers after Andrew Ferrence resigned from the role. The Flyers cannot use either of those excuses to avoid naming a captain, and failing to establish a leadership hierarchy would be a flailing start to the post-Giroux era.
Like it or not, the Flyers are stuck with Kevin Hayes. He makes a mammoth number (over $7 million AAV) through 2026, and because of his no-trade clause, he would have to volunteer to move to a contract graveyard like Arizona or Seattle. Additionally, the classic Chuck Fletcher overpay precludes Hayes from a move to a playoff team. Hayes is, however, a respected voice in the locker room and an effective two-way forward and special-teamer on the ice. These factors make Hayes a decent candidate for the captaincy, but his function in the role would be limited by the Flyers’ inevitable attempts to get rid of his contract.
Three years ago, the idea of Ivan Provorov eventually taking over the captaincy would hardly be outlandish. Provorov was among the team’s best skaters as they marched into the playoffs and seemed to be on an upward trajectory thanks to his youth. Time has disproved that notion, though, as “Provy” seems to have found his level in the NHL as a second-pair guy. Not bad, but not the dominant blueline presence it once seemed he might be, Provorov’s increasingly replaceable talents do not elevate his reserved personality to the level required of a captain.
Whether Cam Atkinson’s survival of the trade deadline means that he will be the subject of summer trade offers or that he is in it for the long haul with the Flyers remains to be seen. Fans certainly would prefer the latter option, as the diminutive forward has been a bright spot in an otherwise dreary season. Atkinson is a dynamo, rushing the net with aplomb and leading the club in goals (23) and points (50). Though he is streaky, even on quiet nights Atkinson does not make mistakes or fall short in the effort department. Atkinson’s grade is limited only by his age- at 32, he would be a bridge captain- and the presence of one superior candidate.
Sean Couturier has suffered a brutal 2021-2022 season, seeing a significant backslide in point production and being shut down thanks to injury. That should not change that he is the painfully obvious choice to lead the team into the future. With Giroux’s departure, Couturier becomes the longest-tenured Flyer and loses any competition he might have had for the title of best skater on the team. Stylistically, he has everything a coach demands from his on-ice leader; Couturier does most of his offensive work in front of the net and is a former Selke Trophy winner to boot. Unless reports that Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov will be made available in the summer mean that no one on the roster is untouchable, Couturier will almost certainly enter 2022-2023 as captain of the Flyers. Given his fresh contract, hopefully he will remain in the role long enough to correct the lack of identity and success on Broad Street.
Photo: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer