The Professional Hockey Writers Association votes for several awards at the end of the NHL season. Coach of the year is not one of them. That’s chosen by the NHL Broadcasters Association.

But if I had a vote, this year it’s between two men in my mind – Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet and Flyers coach John Tortorella.

Keeping it local, Torts has pushed almost all of the right buttons. His message has resonated with a group of overachievers. His demands for accountability and his willingness to be forthright with players, while being snarly with the media and protecting his players, works.

It’s worked at almost every stop he’s had in the NHL and it’s working here. The Flyers are an enjoyable team to watch most nights playing Tortorella’s style, and even in defeat, like Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers, a team that has won 10 straight games, the Flyers played their balls off.

They were shorthanded, missing Travis Konecny, who is out for at least the weekend with an upper body injury, and they got 41 shots on goal, all but one of which were turned aside by a stellar effort by Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin.

But the Flyers played a very good game against a very good team. There was a playoff-like atmosphere to the contest, and the Flyers, to their credit, didn’t wilt. They almost tied the game in the final seconds and forced overtime, but Sean Couturier’s opportunity on a scramble missed a yawning net and clanged off the post for a heartbreaking ending to a hell of a hockey game.

The Flyers shouldn’t hang their head. And Torts should be happy with the effort, even if he was seething below the surface during another 90 second-or-under press conference.

But one has to wonder if there is one button that Torts pushed this season that wasn’t necessarily done at the right time.

That’s because Couturier has not looked himself in the past month or so. And missing an open net on a mad scramble in the closing seconds of a great hockey game is not an alarm bell. But it’s possible Couturier has hit a wall, physically. It’s not an excuse, if a guy is healthy enough to play, then he’s expected to contribute, but the reality of it is that he hadn’t played in a game for nearly two years before coming back this season. Now, as we hit the stretch drive, he doesn’t seem to have the same game that was impressive into the first part of the new year.

Maybe he was being asked to do too much for the team as it tried to find its way in the first half of the season. He was being thrust into all situations by Torts pretty quickly, and while it paid dividends for a while, it hasn’t lately.

Torts has addressed the importance of Couturier playing better several times. Even after Coots scored a huge goal in a win against Seattle a couple weeks ago, Torts had this to say:

“That was ‘F-you’ to me, I’m sure it was,” he said. “So be it, that’s part of it. That’s what I like about him, though. He’s a crusty old pro. He’s a huge part of this. I have tremendous amount of respect for him, how he’s handled this year after taking two years off. There’s no free passes. We need him, terribly, in games, to be consistent.”

It’s that last part that should stick out more than the first part.

Yeah, the beginning was about a player-coach relationship, and the part that Torts relishes the most. Getting a guy to respond to him pushing him to be at his best. It’s the Herb Brooks in him. It’s why he’s one of the most successful U.S.-born coaches in the history of the sport.

But it’s the last part that has the most meaning.

No free passes. Needing him terribly to be more consistent.

Because he hasn’t been.

Since coming back from missing those two games Bill was talking about in that tweet, Couturier has scored just one goal – that one against Seattle. He also only has three assists. That’s the last 14 games. In that time he’s a minus-11 and has been a minus player for six straight games.

Now, we all know plus/minus isn’t a great stat – because it sometimes rewards a player for doing nothing to contribute to his team’s goal that he happened to be on the ice for and it equally sometimes punishes a player who did nothing wrong when he was on the ice for a goal scored by the opponent.

But to be minus-11 in 14 games is pretty stark for a guy who, when healthy and at his peak, is one of the best two-way centers in the sport.

It’s also important to note that he hasn’t played 20 minutes in a game since January 23rd. And in the last nine games he’s averaging 16:20 of ice time, which is a significant drop off – especially for a guy who is your top line center.

It seems as if Torts is trying to squeeze as much juice out of the orange as possible by managing his minutes differently now than earlier in the season. Will it work?

This isn’t a question of Sean Couturier’s will. His desire. His competitive spirit. The guy is a top-notch player and person and a model athlete for many young players to emulate. He’s the right guy to be the captain of this team.

But the possibility does exist, after being away from the game as long as he was, that for this season, he might have already given you his best, and that as much as he tries to get back there the rest of the way, he physically might not make it.

It’s understandable why Torts leaned on his captain as much as he did earlier in the season. He needed him to be the Coots of old to help this team get where it is today. And it’s likely that he pushed this button reluctantly – knowing that a petering out physically was possible on the back end.

I’m sure those options were weighed at the time, and the decision was made to do it because the Flyers had nothing to lose. Here they are, approaching March in playoff position, so maybe it was a success.

Or, maybe it wasn’t, and it contributes to the Flyers not being able to hold on to third place in the Metro. Time will tell.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Coots will suddenly find another gear and elevate the Flyers even further. If he does, then I’ll be happy to wear that egg on my face.