“When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, ‘I don’t know who you’re planning on starting tonight, but I want that first shift’, that says everything.”
This was said of Claude Giroux by former Philadelphia Flyers Head Coach Peter Laviolette after the monstrous 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 6 put in by his captain. Giroux scored the opening goal of the game in his opening shift, his sixth for the playoffs, crunching fellow “worldy” Sidney Crosby with a huge hit, and sniping the puck over the shoulder of Marc-Andre Fleury.
Philadelphia Flyers Leaving Claude Giroux Behind
The goal would propel Philadelphia to a 5-1 series-clinching win over their hated rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins. Laviolette’s quote was certainly hyperbole, but Giroux was the best player on the ice in a series featuring Crosby and Fluery among others.
In the year of Giroux’s mammoth series and Laviolette’s quote, he finished 3rd in points in the NHL, and was nominated for the Hart Trophy. The discussion surrounding the Ontario native used to be centered on, “just how good is he?” Now, it sounds more like, “is he good any more?”
Giroux was not himself last year. 14 goals and 44 assists for 58 points was his lowest full season total since his rookie year, after coming off surgery in the offseason. The optimist looks at these numbers and says, “it was the season after an injury, he’ll bounce back,” which he may. The pessimist says, “Giroux was poor to end 2016 also, maybe he’ll never be elite again.”
The realist notes it’s impossible to gauge how well Giroux will play this season. Maybe he will bounce back, maybe he won’t. There’s a very good chance he’ll continue to be elite on the power play, where he finished equal second in the League last season with 29 points (yes, exactly half his entire points total).
However, it’s five-on-five where Giroux is starting to decline formidably. In 2015-16, he took a step backwards, but by 2016-17, he’d put the car in reverse, managing just 18 points total in over 1,100 minutes. Giroux is 29 now, and turns 30 in the middle of the next season. Next year will be his 11th in the NHL, and its entirely possible Philly’s captain never makes it back to his early career form.
Of course, the Flyers will be hoping their captain has another 70-point season in him. The risk is, if he doesn’t, and his sharp decline continues, is there a risk his days on Broad Street are done? Probably not, is the answer. Giroux will carry a cap hit of $8.275 million this season, which is a contract that includes a no-trade clause.
It is unlikely the contract of a first-line centre will be moved when the player is producing like a fourth-line centre, especially when that player can veto any trade made. However, the talent profile of Philadelphia’s roster is strongly inclined towards youth. Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are both 20, while Shayne Gostisbehere and Jordan Weal are both 25 and under.
The Flyers also just made 18-year-old Nolan Patrick the second-overall pick in the 2017 Draft, and many expect him to log at least a small amount of ice time in the League this season. General Manager Ron Hextall had previously said he didn’t anticipate trading any of his “older core”, but things change quickly the NHL. Brayden Schenn was traded to the St. Louis Blues this offseason for two first round picks.
Philadelphia Moving On?
Others whose futures have come into question include 29-year-old Wayne Simmonds, and 28-year-old Jakub Voracek, both who have been steady the past few seasons. However, veteran leadership is important to a young team, and as the captain of a team who has been to the Stanley Cup Finals, Giroux provides that.
Many have noted that, as more help arrives, his workload will decrease, and his production will increase. Another potential solution to the problem is moving Giroux back to wing, where he started his career alongside the aforementioned Richards and Carter. The problem with this is Philly doesn’t have a lot of depth at centre.
Either way, this issue should not be downplayed. It is a problem, and an expensive one, as Giroux is still owed over $41 million over the next five years inclusive. The Flyers either need to find five more years of production in their waning captain, or a willing trade partner, and the latter may not be possible without the former.
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