Avalanche a Potential Trade Destination for Flyers’ Giroux

In the latest edition of Elliotte Friedman’s 32 Thoughts blog, he raised the possibility that Claude Giroux, the captain of the spiraling Philadelphia Flyers, could find his way to Denver via trade. He suggested that several of the Colorado Avalanche’s key players were interested in acquiring the veteran forward but that coordinating a deal without the help of a third party could prove difficult. Even in his 15th NHL season, Giroux is proving that he still has plenty left in the tank and could bolster the championship hopes of several Stanley Cup contenders, should he so choose. Let’s dig into why a Giroux trade benefits the Avalanche and whether the franchise possesses both the requisite cap space and cache of assets to facilitate a realistic swap.

Giroux Still an All-Star Level Forward

Although I have all the time in the world to debate the merits of the current NHL All-Star Game system, Giroux has been productive this season, being named an All-Star for the seventh time of his career.

Even at the age of 34, Giroux is still Philadelphia’s offensive metronome and leads the Flyers in scoring with 34 points in 40 games (15 goals, 19 assists). His production is notable considering the lengthy absences of key pieces in Ryan Ellis (39 games), Kevin Hayes (23), and Sean Couturier (14), with all three having missed significant time through injury. Other than Cam Atkinson and Joel Farabee, no other players have more than 20 points on the year, demonstrating just how impotent Giroux’s supporting cast has been this season.

Claude Giroux Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Beyond leading the team in scoring, Giroux’s underlying numbers show that the Flyers could somehow be even more inept without him this season. At 5v5, Philadelphia accounts for 53.2% of shots, 51.7% of scoring chances, and 51.3% of expected goals with him on the ice, all three rates ranking either first or second on the team. In a vacuum, those results aren’t that remarkable, but within the context of the Flyers’ spiral, his commitment to two-way play is commendable.

Detractors may point to Couturier’s presence as boosting Giroux’s numbers, especially as he moves into the twilight of his career. However, without the perennial Selke Trophy nominee, Giroux doesn’t fare too poorly in terms of 5v5 possession and has actually posted slightly better numbers than Couturier when the two are separated. They are much more effective as a pair, but the Flyers’ captain doesn’t depend on Couturier to steer the ship.

Flyers’ 2021-22 Season Is in Freefall

Philadelphia’s 2021-22 season has been a massive disappointment, with underwhelming displays from Travis Konecny, James van Riemsdyk, and Rasmus Ristolainen, among others underlining a rapidly spiraling campaign. Last night’s loss to the New York Islanders marked the Flyers’ 13th-straight defeat, setting a new franchise record in futility. They find themselves last in the Metropolitan Division by both points and points percentage and sit 27th overall in the NHL due to this historically terrible slide.

Although Philadelphia’s goaltending hasn’t been anything special (19th in team save percentage), the team as currently constructed is flawed beyond who mans the crease on any given night. They only control 44.4% of scoring chances (31st in the NHL) and 45.8% of expected goals (26th) at 5v5, and it’s a miracle that they haven’t hit rock bottom. Yes, there are depths beyond 13-game losing streaks – just ask the Arizona Coyotes or Montreal Canadiens.

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For all of their troubles, the Flyers still hold their own first-round pick this season and boast a top-half NHL farm system. Acknowledging the hopelessness of this lost season and auctioning off veteran skaters could kickstart a swift retool, and Philadelphia could find itself back in playoff contention after a season or two of hardship. Most NHL teams could benefit from applying a more objective lens to their championship aspirations, and injuries aside, the Flyers are nowhere near true Stanly Cup contention.

Since losing the 2010 Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks as a 22-year-old, Giroux has appeared in only 56 more playoff games, never advancing past the second round. For one of the flagship players of the 2010s (fourth in total points), time is running out on an elusive championship, and the Avalanche can offer a legitimate shot at glory.

Giroux’s Versatility Fills Key Holes for Avalanche

Even though Colorado’s rampaging offense has once again carried them atop the NHL standings (first in the league with just over four goals per game), the team is not without its weaknesses. Their penalty kill is a significant liability, only eliminating 75% of opposing power-play opportunities, the 27th most effective rate in the NHL. Relatedly, the Avalanche struggle to consistently win faceoffs, only controlling 47.4% of their draws (27th). Both areas figure prominently in postseason success, and improving in those departments should be priority number one for the organization ahead of the trade deadline.

Luckily, Giroux can help on both fronts, regularly being used as a penalty-killer while maintaining one of the NHL’s best faceoff win-rates. He’s played 43 seconds a night while shorthanded this season, his least frequent deployment since the 2017-18 season. Philadelphia’s penalty kill isn’t much more effective than Colorado’s at 77.5%, but that’s not on Giroux. Few skaters can match Giroux’s shorthanded impact, as his per-60-minute rates of suppressing scoring chances (18th), expected goals (48th), and high-danger opportunities (10th) are among the NHL’s stingiest this season.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While statistical research suggests that faceoff success matters less to winning games than previously believed, they remain a significant aspect of play. Among players to have taken at least 100 faceoffs this season, Giroux ranks highly in total draws taken (24th) and win-rate on both overall (fourth) and shorthanded draws (second; minimum 25 attempts).

Even if he isn’t the team’s primary penalty killer or faceoff man, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar knows he can utilize Giroux in a variety of game states and situations without worry. For a team with few other discernible weaknesses, Giroux presents overlooked benefits for someone often perceived to be an offense-first star.

Can the Avalanche Afford Giroux?

Even with Colorado’s purported interest, the final call rests with Giroux, as the pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) owns a No-Move Clause that allows him to dictate his destination if he decides to chase an elusive Stanley Cup. His contract also carries an $8.275 million cap hit, which necessitates either salary retention on Philadelphia’s part, the involvement of a third team to further launder Giroux’s cap impact, or both. In two separate transactions, Giroux’s cap hit can quickly go from around $8 million to a much more manageable $2 million.

The cost of acquiring Giroux is likely to be great, with the veteran center presumably commanding a haul that includes a first-round pick, a competent roster player, and a notable prospect. Colorado traded away their 2022 first-round pick to acquire Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes but own their selections in the 2023 and 2024 drafts, although those should be late-round picks. Versatile forward J.T Compher is the obvious salary makeweight ($3.5 million cap hit through next season), and he could be packaged with one of Oskar Olausson and Justin Barron, although the Flyers probably receive a more appealing proposal from elsewhere if Alex Newhook isn’t also made available.

Oskar Olausson Barrie Colts
Oskar Olausson, Barrie Colts (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

If a third party facilitates a deal by also retaining salary, the Avalanche will have to add a sweetener for the favor, which further depletes Colorado’s pool of trade assets. Although Nathan MacKinnon’s looming contract extension heightens their desperation to win a title before his gargantuan raise restricts the organization’s cap flexibility, they should be wary. Flags fly forever, but Sakic and his backroom staff must complete an extensive cost-benefit analysis before completing any trades. Is Giroux really the team’s missing piece?

Is Giroux Colorado’s Missing Piece?

Even with Nazem Kadri’s unexpected offensive eruption this season, Colorado could use another scoring option to supplement their primary superstars. A lengthy postseason run has a way of inviting a barrage of injuries, and having Giroux as a competent depth piece alleviates a portion of those fears. Any potential trade requires some finagling to maneuver around the Avalanche’s very real cap concerns but adding someone of his caliber goes a long way in plugging several troubling holes in the lineup.

Whether a trade for another forward is the best use of their limited trade capital is a legitimate rebuttal. Still, the Avalanche can ill afford to let another year of contention slip away. Let me know in the comments if Giroux represents Colorado’s best hope for a Stanley Cup title or if a different route to a championship should be pursued. Regardless, the trade deadline approaches, and the question stands; what will the Avalanche do?

Data courtesy of Hockey Reference, MoneyPuck, Natural Stat Trick, and the NHL.

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