We all take health for granted, whether we are athletes or not. How many of us have had a major health issue pop up for ourselves or for someone we really care about? How many of those health issues have totally changed the way lives were projected to go? As Philadelphia sports fans, we know this all too well. How different would things have been had Ryan Howard not torn his ACL, Allen Iverson not gotten hurt so much, or Carson Wentz not been so injury prone?
For Philadelphia Flyers fans, we can understand this too. What if the 1986-87 Flyers didn’t have so many injuries during their critical Stanley Cup run? What if Eric Lindros never suffered concussion after concussion? What if Chris Pronger’s career didn’t end with one big hit?
Recently, Flyers fans have asked that about three of their star players: Sean Couturier, Cam Atkinson, and Ryan Ellis. After making a flurry of trades to shake up the lineup in 2021, former GM Chuck Fletcher brought Atkinson and Ellis in (along with Rasmus Ristolainen) and Philly, on paper, looked like it could be a contender. Ellis ended up playing just four games in a Flyers uniform. In December of 2021, Couturier when down and missed the rest of that season plus the season after. Atkinson joined him, unexpectedly, on the injured reserve as he missed all of last season as well, after having a strong first season with the Flyers.
On Wednesday, Keith Jones addressed reporters on the state of the three Flyers stars. The good news is that both Atkinson and Couturier appear to be healthy and ready to go. While the Flyers improved slightly over this past season, it’s fun to imagine how much better they would’ve been with Atkinson and Couturier playing. The former was one of the top offensive stars this team had the previous season, and the latter has long been a productive forward in Philly.
Couturier, when healthy, is one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, especially in the context of Patrice Bergeron’s recent retirement. He’s already won one Selke Trophy, and it is not inconceivable to think that he can win at least one more over the next few seasons.
Atkinson is a great player to have at coach John Tortorella’s camp. The two connected when Torts was the coach in Columbus with the Blue Jackets. The 34 year old was psyched about the team last year and was a big help in getting his teammates ready for the training camp.
Jones revealed that both forwards were ready to go at the end of last year. Since the Flyers weren’t doing well and were out of the playoff race, the risk of reinjuring the stars was greater than any reward that would have been gained from playing them. Hopefully, they will be fully rested up and ready to go come September when training camp starts.
Having two potential 20-goal scorers return in full health to this team could be a game-changer. The veteran experience that Couturier and Atkinson could give young rising stars like Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, Tyson Foerster, and Bobby Brink is immeasurable.
As for Ellis, he was one of the better defenders in the league before he came to Philly. However, injuries have plagued his stay in Philadelphia. His prognosis isn’t looking all that good. As Jones told reporters:
"“We all wish for Ryan just as a human being, because I’ve been through that at the end of my career, when there’s uncertainty about whether you would come back or not and then dealing with the reality of not coming back. It’s a tough time. It’s a very really difficult time. I’m very sympathetic to what he’s gone through.“I think that he’s exhausting everything that he can in order to play, like we all do. You never want to have the void of not doing something that you’d love to do. And he did it very effectively when he played, so it’s got to be really difficult.”"
Ellis is a warrior. He scored five points in his four games in Philadelphia. Had he been healthy, perhaps things could have gone different for Alain Vigneault, Fletcher, and the Flyers. Ellis is going to keep trying to get back into the game he so dearly loves, but it seems unlikely, at this point, that he will ever step foot on the ice again.
A lot of people may have wanted the Flyers to have made a big splash in free agency this past summer. Getting Atkinson and Couturier back is like signing two major free agents. The beauty is, they know how to handle the pressures of playing in Philadelphia and for Tortorella. It’s a shame that Ellis never got a chance to truly shine in Philly as we could’ve used him. All we can do now is hope and pray that these medical diagnoses for Atkinson and Couturier are true and continue to trend positively.