With football season behind us, the 76ers light years away from contention, and the Phillies providing little excitement for the area, the Flyers have had an opportunity to take center stage for the Philadelphia sports scene for the past few weeks. The Flyers have a very strong following as far as American NHL teams go and the organization has established itself as one of the premiere franchises from a player / fan / executive standpoint. By making the playoffs at the staggering rate that they have over the last two decades (missed postseason three times since 1993-1994), the Flyers have provided a consistent contender to a market craving winners.
This season has been a peculiar one for the Orange-and-Black. Despite a dreadful start, a coaching change, another year of roster fluctuation, and stiff competition around them the Flyers would be one of the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference were the postseason to start today. There have been stretches where the team has struggled for scoring, been unable to defend, and came up short in the goaltending department. However, a steadying trend since the hiring of Craig Berube paired with an increase in effort and a few pleasant surprises have Philadelphia in good shape, all things considering.
Under the spotlight all season, in particular, has been the performances of Steve Mason and Claude Giroux. The starting goaltender and the star center are what makes the team go and when either of them is not playing well, the criticism is magnified beyond belief. Oddly enough, the two have had very different 2013-2014 seasons in terms of when their peaks and valleys occurred. Mason started off the campaign with Vezina Trophy-level performances. Even though the team started so poorly, Mason put forth the type of efforts that the team had long pined for with the now-departed Ilya Bryzgalov. Many feel that if Mason had performed anything less than how he did early, the Flyers season would have been over within the first month. Mason saw his play dip a bit in mid-January, around the same time he signed a multi-year extension. He allowed 22 goals in a stretch of six games capped by a 6-1 manhandling at the hands of the Bruins, a game that Mason did not finish.
Contrarily Giroux, fresh off a eight-year/$66.2 million extension, was a colossal disappointment over the first chunk of the Flyers season. He did not score his first goal until the 16th game of the season and saw every aspect of his game take a noticeable dip. With the help of some line-tinkering by Berube, Giroux started to get untracked once he tallied his first goal. Since game #16, Giroux has scored all 19 goals and notched 30 assists and now leads the team in both categories. Giroux is the engine that makes the Flyers run. They are 16-2-0 when the captain scores and he has shown, on multiple occasions, he can put the team on his back and win a game for them.
In January, Claude Giroux was omitted from Team Canada’s roster for the Olympic Games in Sochi. Giroux joined a handful of other ‘snubs’, but he along with Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis were the two most notable. The young center’s reaction to the news was as expected, but it was somewhat chilling to see the effect it had on the Flyers captain. Giroux was able to put the news squarely behind him and focus on his team’s efforts leading up to the Olympic break. However, a few days ago the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos announced he would not be traveling to Sochi. The Canadian team had another opening and, once again, Giroux’s name was toward the top of the list.
Once again, Giroux was passed over, this time in favor for St. Louis. It is tough to argue the decision based on the two players, but the fact that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is also in charge of the selection process of the Canadian team certainly raised some eyebrows. While it was not the headline news it was in January, the second omission of Giroux apparently warranted a response from the Flyers chairman, Ed Snider. The man who brought Stanley Cup success to Philadelphia in the mid-70s as his ‘Broad Street Bullies’ steamrolled the rest of the league came down from his rafters to lash out at those who felt his captain was not the best choice to represent Canada in the upcoming Olympics.