Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux is playing in his fourteenth season with the club and his ninth as the team captain. He has continued exceptional offensive production consistently throughout his career, and he will be in contention for a Hall of Fame induction once he retires.
However, Giroux once again finds himself on a team that is not considered a Stanley Cup contender despite his strong offensive output of 31 points in 37 games. It’s been an all-too-familiar narrative in Philadelphia in the span since the beginning of Giroux’s captaincy prior to the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season. The Flyers are in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in nine seasons, a span in which they’ve employed five different head coaches and won only one playoff series.
Giroux was surrounded by top-tier NHL talent at the beginning of his career at a time when the Flyers were considered a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference on a yearly basis. However, the organization’s dwindling ability to assemble talent surrounding him has coincided with the prime years of his career. It has prevented him from true opportunities to bring a Cup in Philadelphia for a franchise that hasn’t won one since 1974-75.
The 33-year-old Giroux will enter the final year of his current deal in 2021-22 at an $8.275 million AAV. His no-movement clause guarantees protection in the expansion draft this summer, and he is unlikely to be moved in a trade because of the collective lack of financial flexibility across the NHL. While there have been no indications that Giroux would look to sign elsewhere, the clock is undeniably ticking on his career. If the Flyers can’t recover quickly from a disappointing season in 2020-21, they risk wasting the entirety of the prime years of one of the franchise’s all-time great players during an era marked by mediocrity.
Stanley Cup Appearance and Promising Future
Giroux played in 50 playoff games in his first four NHL seasons, excluding the 2007-08 season in which he appeared in only two regular-season games. The Flyers were helped to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 by Giroux’s remarkable performance, as he tallied 21 points in 23 games and scored an overtime winner in Game 3 of a series ultimately won by the Chicago Blackhawks.
His progression as a top-line producer continued with a 76 point season in 2010-11 and a 93 point season in 2011-12. The sky looked like the limit when the Flyers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in an opening-round series of the 2012 Playoffs that received tremendous exposure nationally. The Flyers had made the playoffs in 16 of the previous 17 seasons at that point, and they were considered around the league as a threat to make a playoff run every year. Giroux and Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby looked poised to lead their respective teams in one of the game’s best rivalries for years to come.
Giroux was named as the 19th captain in Flyers history just days before the 2012-13 season began. A multitude of factors have since hindered Giroux’s ability to lead the Flyers into true Stanley Cup contention as a captain and top scorer. The Flyers missed the playoffs in four of the ensuing seven seasons. The fall into mediocrity was exacerbated when Crosby and the arch-rival Penguins rose to elite NHL status, winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
The Flyers took a promising step forward in 2019-20, seemingly indicating a new era where an organizational rebuild was a thing of the past. The optimism surrounding last year’s success has been superseded by the letdown in 2020-21, in which they are a long shot to earn a playoff berth.
Organizational Failures Doom Giroux
Since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the strength of the Flyers organization has diminished. During that time span, Giroux has been among the most productive offensive players in the NHL. With 603 points in 641 regular-season contests, he has averaged just south of a point per game. Over the decade of the 2010s, only Patrick Kane, Alexander Ovechkin, and Sidney Crosby had more points. The respective three players were members of six of the ten Stanley Cup-winning teams over that span. Each of these teams featured elite-level NHL talent surrounding their superstar point producers. While the Flyers seemed to boast that same level of talent early in Giroux’s career, the organization significantly dropped off in their ability to field competitive rosters on a yearly basis.
The Flyers have had a revolving door of goaltenders over the course of Giroux’s captaincy. The struggles began when Russian goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s play plummeted early in the tenure of a nine-year, $51 million contract and peaked when the Flyers used a record eight goaltenders during the 2018-19 season. While the career of 22-year-old goalie Carter Hart still holds tremendous future potential, the Flyers have been plagued yet again this season by poor goaltending. They have allowed the second-most goals in the NHL this season.
Early in Giroux’s career, Philadelphia was led on the blue line by Hall of Famer Chris Pronger. Pronger played his last NHL game in October 2011, and the Flyers have struggled to fill the void of a number one defenseman ever since. While Kimmo Timonen and Ivan Provorov have both seen success during Giroux’s captaincy, they pale in comparison to defensemen like Duncan Keith, Victor Hedman, Drew Doughty, and Kris Letang who have helped their teams to Stanley Cups as bonafide number one defensemen.
The scoring balance in Philadelphia dissipated while Giroux consistently produced in the early years of his captaincy. The Flyers ranked ninth in the NHL in goals in both 2012-13 and 2013-14 but finished 22nd, 22nd, 20th, 13th, and 17th, respectively, in the following five seasons.
The most successful season both offensively and overall while Giroux has worn the “C” came in 2019-20 when Philadelphia finished sixth in the NHL in goals. He finished with 53 points in 69 games, and the pressure of carrying the load was relieved by the type of forward depth that had been lacking in the preceding seasons. However, the Flyers’ extensive recent slump has reverted them towards the same problems of the past. Giroux has 17 points in his last 20 games, a stretch when the Flyers have won only seven times. They have slipped back to 13th in goals this season.
Analyzing the Criticism
Critics of Giroux frequently place blame for the mistakes of the Flyers organization as a whole on their long-time captain. They criticize his inability to carry the team, oversimplifying the role of one star player in a team’s overall success and overlooking the intangible strengths he has shown throughout his career.
Giroux has 73 points in 85 career playoff games, an excellent mark just narrowly below his career points per game average. His greatest shortcoming has been the struggle to produce offensively in the Flyers’ three most recent playoff appearances. He was stifled in opening round series losses to the Capitals in the 2016 Playoffs and the Penguins in the 2018 Playoffs, totaling just four points in 12 games. Giroux finished with eight points in 16 games during the 2020 Playoffs in the Toronto bubble.
The Flyers were overmatched and outclassed in the first two of the aforementioned postseasons. In 2016, depth players like Matt Read, Ryan White, and Sam Gagner were forced into significant minutes out of necessity against a Washington team that had won the President’s Trophy by an 11 point margin and finished second in the NHL in scoring.
The Flyers made the playoffs in 2017-18 with a middling level NHL roster, largely thanks to a career year from their captain. Giroux totaled 102 points and finished fourth in the Hart Trophy voting for the league’s MVP. They clinched a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season thanks to Giroux’s hat trick against the New York Rangers.
Although Giroux did not continue the torrid offensive pace in the 2018 Playoffs, the Flyers’ inability to defend Pittsburgh’s high-powered attack was the reason they were eliminated in the first round. They allowed 25 goals in Pittsburgh’s four victories.
Giroux’s performance in the 2020 Playoffs was underwhelming, but the points per game average he posted is somewhat misleading. He went scoreless in three round-robin games, which proved to be entirely inconsequential, although they were statistically considered playoff games. He recorded five assists in the ensuing ten games and received strong criticism while the Flyers fell to a 3-1 series deficit in the second round against the New York Islanders. Giroux drove offensive play in Games 5 and 6, recording one goal and two assists and helping the Flyers force the decisive Game 7. He is, however, as culpable as any of the Flyers in the lackluster Game 7 loss.
The intangible strengths of the Flyers’ fourth all-time leading scorer have been on display at pivotal times throughout his career. He built a reputation as a playoff performer following his superb play during the run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. He scored 12 points in 11 games during the 2011 Playoffs and 17 points in 10 games during the 2012 Playoffs, highlighted by the famous tone-setting hit on Crosby in the decisive Game 6 of the opening-round series. Early in the 2013-14 season, he publicly assured that the Flyers were a playoff team after a horrific 1-7-0 start that included a coaching change (Flyers’ Giroux: ‘We will make the playoffs,’ The Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/22/13). He finished third in the Hart Trophy voting that season and helped the Flyers clinch a playoff berth in the final week of the season.
Giroux scored the overtime winner in an emotional, morale-boosting comeback victory in the 2019 Stadium Series win at Lincoln Financial Field against Pittsburgh. He recently led the charge in another furious comeback against the Penguins on March 2, in which he scored two goals and added one assist, helping the Flyers turn a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 victory. On Saturday night, he scored a pair of third period goals to erase a 2-0 deficit and force overtime against the Islanders.
Uncertain Future in Philadelphia
Flyers’ general manager Chuck Fletcher will have several legitimate concerns to address in the upcoming offseason if the team can’t muster up a miracle comeback into the MassMutual East Division playoff race. He is faced with the task of revamping a roster with enough talent to put the Flyers back into Stanley Cup contention, a situation that has never been present during Giroux’s captaincy spanning the most regular-season games of any captain in franchise history.
Philadelphia’s decisions moving forward will greatly impact the legacy of Giroux. He will soon pass Brian Propp for third all-time in scoring in franchise history, and he is likely to pass Billy Barber for second place at some point next season. However, the individual milestones will not be the focus during the final years of his career. They will seem like insignificant footnotes if Giroux’s name is never engraved on the Stanley Cup.