Whether the Flyers make the playoffs this season will not be determined by the play Nolan Patrick, this year’s first-round draft pick, or any other rookies who could make the team, nor the development of second- and third-year players such Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny or the goalie tandem of Michal Neuvirth and newly-signed Brian Elliott.
Rather, the fate of the team’s postseason hopes is tethered to their captain, Claude Giroux.
If he can return to his old form when 70-plus points were the norm, count the Flyers in the thick of the playoff hunt. If he continues his disturbing pattern of rapid decline, they have little chance of playing beyond the first week of April.
The burning question is what has happened to the former all-star?
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When Giroux posted 93 points in 2011-12, he was considered one of the best players in the league. Just five years later, at age 29, many experts wonder if he is still even the best player on the Flyers.
Last season he finished with a meager 58 points, a career low in a full season, including 14 goals and was a minus-15, also a career worst. The one bright spot was his 31 power play points, which ranked fourth in the league. Granted, he had offseason hip surgery, which limited his mobility for the bulk of the year and clearly impacted his effectiveness.
However, 2016-17 was hardly an anomaly. His point totals have gone down in each of the last four years from 86 to 73 to 67 to 58. At this rate, he’d struggle to crack 50 points this year.
Following last season, General Manager Ron Hextall admitted it was a down year for Giroux but stopped short of calling it a trend and expressed confidence he will reverse course.
“I don’t think Giroux had a great year,” he said. “He’s not on the decline. … He’s a very driven athlete and I know he’s going to train hard this [summer].”
Still, many are concerned the No. 1 center, who has an $8.2 million cap hit through 2021-21, is on the downside of his career.
Giroux knows there is only one way to erase those doubts.
“There were times during the season that I was playing really good, and then it kind of dipped down a little bit and went back,” Giroux said in the spring. “I’m frustrated at myself and how I played, but I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to pout about it.
“I’m going to go back to work and be the player I can be.”
The Flyers better hope so.