Philadelphia Flyers: Under-appreciated, Giroux on pace for another elite season

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Flyers captain Claude Giroux is on the verge of another outstanding season despite the team underperforming as a unit.  His play could have him once again in the MVP discussion.

The word “elite” is not one that gets thrown around with reckless abandon, regardless of the sport. It’s a title that is typically earned after multiple campaigns of high-level play, where a player establishes his or herself as one of the top players in their respective sport.

Philadelphia is proud to say that it has been home to a bevy of elite athletes throughout its four major sports histories. Players like Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson, Mike Schmidt, Roy Halladay, Bernie Parent, Eric Lindros, Bobby Clarke, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and Randall Cunningham, are just a few noteworthy names within their respective sports.

Current Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux has a great chance of having his name intertwined with the great names listed above when his career finally comes to a close. Giroux has been the Flyer’s best player, not only this season but dating back almost six years now. Without his efforts, it’s quite possible the Flyers find themselves in last place in the entire league this season.

More from Philadelphia Flyers

You might not believe it, but Giroux has consistently been playing a high level for almost a decade now. In fact, over the past six seasons, Giroux has the 5th most points in the entire league at 425. If you go back even further and look at the last eight years, Giroux’s point total of 566 has him sitting second, behind only Sidney Crosby, perhaps the best player of the modern generation. Yes, Giroux has been that good.

Despite the mediocrity surrounding the Flyers as a team for the better part of the last six years, Giroux has been anything but mediocre. In fact, since 2010, Giroux has had five seasons where he scored more than 70 points, including 86, 93, and 102 point seasons during that span. He’s truly been the most consistent point producer on the team while playing against the opposing team’s best players each night.

Yet despite such a prolonged run of high-level play, there are still more than a few sects of the fan base that remain fractured regarding Giroux, and these fans are typically the first to call for action against the Flyers captain, whether it be to strip him of the captaincy or just to outright trade him, whenever the team underperforms or misses the playoffs.

The 2018-19 season has been no different thus far, and with the Flyers currently floundering and having fired former GM Ron Hextall a quarter of the way through, the pitchforks have come out en masse once again in pursuit of Giroux.

This is a trend that’s become all too familiar in Philadelphia, that when teams start to sputter or fail to meet expectations, that it must somehow be a failure of leadership or a lack of effort on the part of the team’s best players. And while that may be true in some cases around the various leagues, that does not seem to be the case with Giroux when looking at the raw numbers.

Giroux is currently on pace for a 107 point season, sitting at 39 points in 30 games, which would undoubtedly have him in the thick of the Hart Trophy discussion for the second consecutive season. And though he may have been snubbed in 2018, it would be hard to ignore Giroux if he continues at his current pace. What he’s doing right now at the near-age of 31 is remarkable. He is playing at an elite level, but it’s fair to wonder how many people in Philadelphia have taken notice.

The fact of the matter is that Giroux is criminally under-appreciated in Philadelphia, and has been for some time now. When talking about great Philadelphia athletes, his name is hardly ever thrown out there. People will talk about Iverson, and McNabb, and Clark and Parent and Westbrook. They easily forget about a player that’s been willingly sacrificing his body for this city for the better part of a decade.

Name me a player that has been this consistently good for nearly a decade, while continuing to play at a high level at the age of 31. You may be hard-pressed to come up with a name. The captain currently has 700 points in his career, which he has spent entirely with the Flyers. He is the longest-tenured athlete in Philadelphia and certainly doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, especially after a move from center to the wing which appears to have given his career an even bigger boost.

But Giroux’s critics will point to his underwhelming playoff efforts. They’ll say he can’t win the big game or carry his team to victory. They’ll remark about the first round exits to New York and Washington. They’ll talk about his struggles with injury, including a freak accident with a golf club that required hand surgery and hampered him during the 2013-14 season, and a hip injury that required surgery in 2016 and slowed him during the following season.

They’ll point to his tremendous regular season last year, when he literally dragged the Flyers to the playoffs behind his 102 point campaign, only to follow that up with an underwhelming playoff series against Pittsburgh. They look at the “C” on his chest and claim that the effort isn’t good enough and that if the effort isn’t good enough, then the player must not be good enough.

But the problem with that view is that it’s shortsighted. The Penguins beat the Flyers because they were a much better team from a roster and coaching standpoint. They were a team that possessed four strong lines, something the Flyers did not have. They, like most good teams, were able to focus their defensive game plan on the Flyers’ top line, knowing that they did not have enough depth to force Pittsburgh to adjust their strategy. And it worked, as the Giroux line was stifled for most of the series.

That’s the game of hockey now. In the playoffs, it’s all about line matching, and good coaches know how to key on the other team’s best players. Without a supporting cast, a team’s best player can easily be taken out of the game and suppressed. Sure, that player will still get his chances, but it’s like skating uphill for an entire contest. Having even just one additional line that can pose a threat to a team would take the attention away from that player and allow for more opportunities. Right now, the Flyers just aren’t able to get Giroux that time and space when it comes time for the playoffs.

What’s troubling is that, despite the obvious fact that the Flyers have struggled with roster depth for some time now,  there are still those who treat the “C” on Giroux’s sweater as some kind of mystical totem that grants the wearer with special powers, expecting him to go out and single-handedly take over a game by himself, scoring a timely goal in the waning minutes of a game or dominating the stat sheet with multiple points every night. The “C” on the sweater has gone from a ceremonial symbol of leadership to a stitched-on letter that is somehow indicative of a player’s talent or worth, and it needs to stop.

What most people don’t understand is that professional hockey is just not that kind of game anymore. It doesn’t allow for one single player to dominate a contest single-handedly every night. The game has evolved dramatically, and teams are more balanced and competitive than ever before. The days of Eric Lindros physically bullying his opponent out of the faceoff dot or shooting the puck with one hand while holding off a defender with the other are gone.

There are perhaps two or three players in the entire world who might lay claim to the title of “game changers”, that is, players who you can put on the ice in any situation and have some expectation that they may be able to deliver a critical goal scoring opportunity. Connor McDavid, Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin are probably the only three players who might be able to lay claim to that title.

Giroux seems to always be a target of those that view him in such a tight vacuum; in that because Giroux is the best player on the team and holds the mantle of captain, that any and all blame should be laid at his feet when he does not single-handedly lead his team to victory on a given night. It’s a fallacy of logic that seems to have infested this fan base and has even crept onto the national stage.

Last season Giroux delivered an elite campaign, much like the one he’s currently on pace for right now. Were it not for him, the Flyers would not have made the playoffs, and there’s no debating that. The Hart Trophy is the award given to the player deemed most valuable to his team, yet when the dust settled, Giroux found himself out of the final consideration.

It was a snub that resonated among Giroux fans, who cried vehemently that the captain had flat-out been ignored. And it’s fair to wonder if his poor playoff performance did factor into the voting, even though the national voters are not supposed to consider postseason play. We may never know.

Yes, Giroux has struggled in the past, most notably in the playoffs where he seems to accrue the most criticism. But the reality with this Flyers team is that the biggest failure thus far has been to surround Giroux with a quality supporting cast that would allow him to flourish and truly lead this team to the kind of success that the city deserves from its hockey team.

Point blank, this Philadelphia Flyers organization has failed a great player and are wasting yet another elite season from the captain. It’s quite possible that when all is said and done, Giroux will retire as a Flyer having never won a single thing, and the Flyers organization will have wasted the career of one of the best players, perhaps even the best, ever in its history. That’s a travesty of reality that fans should hope to never face, but one that’s becoming increasingly more and more likely.

Next. Final thoughts regarding Ron Hextall’s departure. dark

The numbers prove that Giroux has consistently been a great player. Should fans be frustrated that he hasn’t won a big playoff series since 2011? Sure, but they should be more frustrated with the front office for not surrounding a great player with good enough supporting talent needed to take the next step. Let’s hope recently appointed GM Chuck Fletcher has other plans in mind.