January 20, 2018 | 7:07pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period

O CAPTAIN! MY (FLYERS) CAPTAIN!

 
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Claude Giroux, left wing

 
 

MONTREAL, QC -- The 2017-18 edition of the Philadelphia Flyers have taken the meaning “rollercoaster season” to an entire new level. From a 10-game losing streak, to a six-game winning streak, to hearing their fans chant for the firing of Head Coach Dave Hakstol, to displaying one the League’s best forward lines, the Flyers have arguably seen more ups and downs than any other team this year. 

With half of the season gone, their play has been just good enough to keep them afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

But through all the ups and downs, one thing has stood out among all the rest: the play of the team’s captain and fearless leader, Claude Giroux.

Heading into the 2017-18 campaign, there was much media attention surrounding Giroux, and not all of it was positive. Giroux was coming off his worst season (not counting the lockout-shortened 2013 season) since 2009-10, when he was the Flyers’ third line centre. Giroux’s season was a cause for concern, in which the captain tallied just 14 goals, as he was entering just the fourth season of an eight-year, $66.2 million mega contract.

Giroux’s steady decline in points had begun ever since his 93-point output back in 2011-12. Ever since then (2013 excluded), Giroux had seen his point totals drop from 86, to 73, to 67 and finally to 58 last season over a stretch of four full seasons. The popular belief began to be that age was catching up to Giroux, and that the captain was no longer an elite player who could carry a team.

With the Flyers in the midst of yet another “rebuilding year,” the thought of whether or not Giroux would be a part of the team’s long-term plan was brought up. If Giroux was already on the decline, how good would he be in 2-3 years from now when the Flyers are aiming to be Stanley Cup contenders? General Manager Ron Hextall even openly admitted to having discussions with other teams regarding Giroux at this past year’s NHL Draft.

I myself began to think about if it would be a good idea to move Giroux while he was still young. After all, most teams would bent over backwards to go after a player with the type of pedigree that he carries. It’s not every day that a player of Giroux’s magnitude gets thrown around trade discussions, so it’s safe to assume that Hextall would be able to drive the asking price up quite high. Moving out Giroux to garner future assets and gain cap space seemed like a fathomable idea before his game completely plummeted.

But hockey’s a funny game, and just over a week ago the NHL announced that Giroux would be heading to his fifth All-Star game. It seemed that a change from centre to left wing was all Giroux needed to get back on track, and once again become one of the NHL’s premier forwards.

Giroux is currently on pace for his best season to date, having already put up 55 points (already three back of his point total from last season). The captain has flourished since his move to the left side, and has seemed rejuvenated to say the least. The Flyers have got their captain back to his elite ways.

Giroux has benefited greatly from having Sean Couturier (who is quietly having a brilliant season in his own right, having already scored 26 goals), as he no longer has to worry about defensive responsibilities. Giroux’s move to the wing has allowed him to play freely and spend more time creating offense from down low, as opposed to being in the high slot waiting to peel back defensively. Although Giroux is still a Grade A defensive forward, his value is best served for creating offense, especially on a team that struggles with depth scoring like the Flyers.

With the Flyers still struggling to find consistent offence from players not named Giroux, Couturier or Jakub Voracek, the play of the captain is that much more important. Without Giroux’s dramatic bounce back year, there is no telling where the Flyers would be in the standings. While still on the outside looking in, the play of Giroux (along with Voracek and Couturier) has been the biggest reason as to why the Flyers are still in the playoff picture.

Giroux has seemingly silenced the critics for the time being, but half of a season is still a small sample size. It could be argued the jury should still be out on his future with the Flyers. Although he has had a ridiculous bounce back season, is this potentially just a flash in the pan? Will Giroux still be an $8 million player near the end of his contract? With this still seemingly just another rebuilding year for the Flyers, could Hextall sell Giroux while his stock his high this off-season and invest into the team’s future?

Regardless of whether or not Giroux should be part of the long-term plan in Philadelphia, it is abundantly clear that he is the heart and soul of the team. As far as this season goes, the Flyers will need every bit of Giroux’s game if they hope to avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in four years. 

Giroux’s play to this point has kept the Flyers alive in the playoff hunt, and the captain will have to keep steering the ship to have any hope of playing meaningful hockey come mid-April.

Anthony Di Marco is the Philadelphia Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
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