It seems impossible a player could put up a great season in Philadelphia without the sports world craning its neck. And yet, that’s what’s happening right now with Claude Giroux.
The Flyers’ captain has been skating here for a full decade. Assuming that Brent Celek’s Eagles career ended at the Super Bowl parade, Giroux will become the longest-running athlete in town.
He sure isn’t just hanging on. At age 30, Giroux is enjoying the finest season of his career. Entering Monday, he was fourth in the NHL in scoring and third in assists (teammate Jakub Voracek leads that category). He’s been red hot recently (8-12-20 in his last 13 games), coinciding with the team’s rise in the standings. And he’s been clutch.
Giroux is having the best all-around season of any Flyers forward since Eric Lindros skated through South Philly in the 1990s. (By the way, he’ll pass Lindros for fifth place on the franchise career point-leader chart later this month). He should warrant consideration as a finalist for the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) at season’s end. But don’t bet on it.
Because this is the career season few have noticed. Why?
Well, first the Flyers got off to a horrible start, causing many casual fans to turn away. It doesn’t help, frankly, that the team plays a boring brand of hockey in the same building as one of the NBA’s most-dynamic young franchises. Oh, and many of us were distracted through early February by the Eagles. None of that is Giroux’s fault, of course.
The Flyers haven’t won a playoff round since 2012, and missed the playoffs entirely three of the past five years. It’s tough to generate excitement through a six-year string of mediocrity.
And Giroux, before this season, appeared to be fading. Ever since Coach Peter Laviolette foolishly called him “the best player in the world,” Giroux’s play and his stats tumbled – from 93 points in 2012 all the way to 58 last season.
He seemed like a player in decline. A wrist injured nagged him for three years. There was a concussion in 2016, and abdomen and hip surgeries that slowed him all through last season.
Now, suddenly, the team is hot (if we can ignore last weekend’s Florida debacle) and a healthy Giroux is – well, if not the best player in the world, at least back to being one of its elites.
I’ll give Dave Hakstol some credit here. The vanilla coach shifted Giroux from center to left wing at season’s start. The move has cut down on the wear-and-tear on Giroux’s body, and also given him the chance to create offense with his back to the boards.
Hakstol also reluctantly split Giroux and Voracek when it became clear opponents were shutting down the Flyers’ offense by focusing on the top line. Voracek has since helped the second line evolve into a dangerous scoring unit. And Giroux continues to make a star out of Sean Couturier, whose 29 goals already equal the sum of his two best prior seasons.
Where does this end up? The resurgence story only works if the Flyers can carry success into the post-season. A playoff run relies on so many factors – depth, the poise of young defensemen Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, and, of course, goalie play for a team that doesn’t currently know which goalie will get the nod.
But here’s betting that Claude Giroux is out there doing his part. And maybe, if he does, the sports world will start noticing.