The Philadelphia Flyers have survived a wild regular season and are headed to the playoffs. Claude Giroux had a great bounce-back season to finish with career-highs in goals, assists, and points to lead the Flyers to the postseason.
Giroux has come a long way from where he was just one year ago, and he has forced himself into the Hart Trophy discussion with his strong play this season. Not only is he in the discussion, but he deserves to win the Hart Trophy for his fantastic season. It’s not a clear-cut debate, but Giroux has one of the best cases in the entire league as to why he should be holding that trophy at the NHL awards in June.
At the end of the season there are still several players that deserve to be in the discussion for the Hart Trophy. Connor McDavid had 108 points to keep the Oilers somewhat relevant, Nikita Kucherov was on fire for a large portion of the season and tallied 100 points, Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon nearly single-handedly carried their teams to the playoffs, and Anze Kopitar had another stellar all-around season for the Kings.
Claude Giroux is right there with them and those same things can be said about him. He’s right behind McDavid in points to get both himself and the Flyers back on the map in the playoffs, he was consistent throughout the season while also scoring in bunches at times, and played great two-way hockey in all 82 games. That’s why he has one of the best cases to win the Hart Trophy.
There are a few aspects to look at when discussing the Hart Trophy. Among them are raw point totals, the value brought to their team, and whether or not their team made the playoffs. That last one can be a sticking point for some, as McDavid’s 108-point season may not be enough to vote for him over players who were slightly behind him in points, but were on a playoff team.
McDavid was the best player in the league this year. There’s not much doubt about that. However, the Oilers finished as a bottom-10 team, so how much value could he really bring?
The immediate candidates for the Hart Trophy are usually the top scorers in the league. That rings true this year as well. All of the top seven scorers are legitimate Hart candidates. Those are Connor McDavid, Claude Giroux, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Nathan MacKinnon, Taylor Hall, and Anze Kopitar. The only one that is debatable, and I will soon discard from the discussion, is Malkin due to Pittsburgh’s depth, including Phil Kessel (8th) and Sidney Crosby (10th) in the top-ten scorers.
The chart below shows how each player fared in raw points, as well as what percentage of their team’s goals they had a point on. For example, if a player had 50 points and his team scored 100 goals, that’s a point percentage of 50%.
Connor McDavid is far and away the leader in these categories. He led the league in points, 5v5 points, and had the most influence on his team’s scoring with points on 47% of Edmonton’s goals, and on 44% of their 5v5 goals. But Claude Giroux is right behind him. Giroux is the only other player with points on more than 39% of his team’s goals overall, and is neck-and-neck with MacKinnon at 5v5.
This also shows why Kucherov and Malkin aren’t being considered as serious of contenders. Kucherov had points on just barely over a third of Tampa’s goals, due to their depth, and Malkin was just above 36%. The same goes for their 5-on-5 production, with Malkin’s 44 5v5 points sticking out like a sore thumb.
Taylor Hall has carried the Devils, but he hasn’t been as great during 5-on-5 play. He had just 45 points at 5v5, which was less than 29% of his team’s goals.
Anze Kopitar isn’t flashy, and has snuck up a bit in the Hart Trophy discussions, but he’s right in the middle of the pack in terms of the percentages. The Kings didn’t score as many goals as some other teams, but Kopitar had a hand in a decent amount of them.
Points are the main thing that many look at, but helping generate a goal during a shift is almost as important as scoring yourself or getting an assist. While some may scoff at secondary assists, they’re usually just as important as the primary helper. The same can be said about the play and shift leading up to the goal.
The chart below shows the same thing as the one above, but with the amount of goals the player was on the ice for, rather than just points.
The analysis on these numbers pretty much echo the observations above. McDavid and Giroux are at the top, while Kucherov and Malkin get knocked down a notch or two due to their decreasing impact on their team’s scoring.
This is where you can really see Giroux’s argument building. He was on the ice for over half of the Flyers’ goals overall, and nearly half of them during 5v5 play. He had an even bigger impact on the Flyers’ scoring than McDavid did on Edmonton’s. Now that’s saying something.
At this point the candidates can get whittled down a bit. Kucherov and Malkin are off the board, and I decided to take McDavid off to have an even slate across the board.
The thing with McDavid is that he is going to receive votes no matter what. He was the best player in the league and had the most points. The voters will value that how they see fit. Even if some of them have him first on their ballots, they will have to decide between these final four for the other top spots.
All four of these players were their team’s main contributors and helped them to the playoffs. Giroux and MacKinnon each clinched the playoffs in their final game, while Hall and Kopitar were just a few days prior to that. The season went down to the wire for them and they came up big.
When you take McDavid out of the discussion, the gap between Giroux and the rest of the competition is much clearer. He has the most points, tied for the most 5v5 points (and 10 above his main competition, Hall), he was on the ice for the most goals overall and at 5v5, and he had the highest percentage of points on goals overall, and was a tad behind MacKinnon at 5v5.
His on-ice goal numbers are astounding. He was on the ice for 14 more goals than the next closest overall, and 10 more at 5v5. He was on the ice for 56% of the Flyers’ goals, and none of the other three cracked 50%. He was just a few goals away from being on the ice for half of the 5v5 goals, while the other withered there as well.
It’s not all about the offensive side of things, though. The most valuable players need to play well in all aspects of the game. They need to play well defensively and they need to drive play.
Giroux does all of those things as well. He is on top across the board. He drives play the best with a 52.92% corsi for (+6.66% relative to his teammates) and 55.35% expected goals for (+9.97% relative to his teammates). It’s also worth noting that Giroux had the best plus-minus, because you know some voters are going to use that for their balloting. He did this while playing the most difficult minutes out of the four candidates.
His zone start ratio was 0.45, the lowest out of these candidates with only Kopitar coming close. Giroux started 470 shifts in the defensive zone this season, 29 more than Kopitar, 127 more than MacKinnon, and 147 more than Hall. He started 377 shifts in the offensive zone, 3 more than Kopitar, but 38 less than Hall and 77 less than MacKinnon.
The other three are great players in their own right and definitely deserve to be in the discussion, but Giroux is slightly ahead of the field. Giroux has all of his bases covered for potential counter-arguments. He has more points, was on the ice for more goals, and drives play better than anyone else on the board.
We know these guys can score and drive play, with Giroux leading the pack, but only a few of them can kill penalties. Only Giroux and Kopitar spent significant minutes killing penalties this season.
Kopitar was a mainstay on the Kings’ PK with 174 minutes, while Giroux had nearly 64 minutes on the PK. MacKinnon played a little bit as well, with 22 minutes, but Taylor Hall only played six minutes on the penalty kill, which is likely either at the end of a penalty or when the Devils were down a goal.
On top of this, Giroux nearly led the league in faceoff percentage. He won 58.6% of his 1088 faceoffs, which was behind only Ryan O’Reilly and Antoine Vermette (who both won 60% of their draws) for third in the NHL. Kopitar won 54.1% of his 1816, while MacKinnon won just 41.9% of his 1157 and Hall was nowhere to be found.
Being the league’s most valuable player means that you are there for the team in all situations for all 82 games. Giroux, McDavid, and Kopitar were the only three Hart candidates to play in all 82 games. Coincidentally, they are the only three that killed penalties as well.
Hall and MacKinnon missed six and eight games respectively for their teams. That’s not something they can control, obviously, but missing a game takes away from a players’ ability to impact that game. If one guy is playing in all situations in all 82 games, the player that doesn’t play the penalty kill, isn’t as strong defensively, and misses a handful of games should need to be a lot better in those 74 or 76 games he does play in to be considered over the full-timer for the Hart Trophy.
With the statistical comparisons delved into and out of the way, let’s go back to focusing on our captain.
Claude Giroux was one of the best players in the league, he led the league in assists, was second in scoring, played in all situations, and was the main contributor on a playoff team for all 82 games. He was consistent from the start of the season all the way to the end at a new position, setting career-highs in his age-30 season. He scored the first goal of the regular season, and also the last.
I wrote about this earlier in the week in my 5 storylines from the Flyers’ regular season, and I’m going to reiterate some of Giroux’s stats here.
Giroux had double-digit points in every full month, and nearly reached it in April as well with nine points in just four games. A lot of the fans remember just his second-half due to his big-time goals in clutch moments, but Giroux was consistently consistent. He had 51 points in the first 41 games, and then 51 points in the last 41 games.
Those second-half numbers just seem to stand out more due to the way he came up clutch in big moments to put the team on his back. He came up big for the Flyers when they needed him most. He ended the season on a 10-game point streak, with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in that span. He also had at least one point in 18 of his final 19 games, with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in that span. Since February 8th, Giroux had 19 goals and 25 assists for 44 points in 29 games. He was held without a point in just three of the final 29 games.
Almost every argument that can be made for Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, or Anze Kopitar can be made for Claude Giroux. He is one of the top scorers, the best play-drivers, and played well in all 82 games.
Claude Giroux deserves to win the Hart Trophy.
Stats via corsica.hockey
Photo by Heather Barry/Sons of Penn
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