Heading into training camp and the 2017-’18 season, all eyes are on the kids. The Philadelphia Flyers started their youth movement last season with Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny making the jump from junior hockey to the pros, and they will continue that this season with a handful of rookies.
The Flyers have a pair of young guns up front looking to make the roster in top-pick Nolan Patrick and the SHL’s best forward Oskar Lindblom, as well as a few rookies on the back end. Both Robert Hagg and Sam Morin made their one-game NHL debuts last season, and they’ll look to make the team out of camp as they battle alongside Travis Sanheim and even Philippe Myers for a roster spot.
Ron Hextall has been adamant that this is not a rebuild for the Flyers, and it’s not. It is simply a transition. The Flyers have a core group of veterans to help guide the rookies and young kids in the right direction. They are set up well for the long-term, but the short-term depends on a few familiar faces.
Jake Voracek was the only Flyers forward to increase his point total from the 2015-16 season to the 2016-17 season. Even Wayne Simmonds, who seemingly had a career year, saw his point total drop from 60 to 54. This isn’t a knock on either of those guys or any of the big guns up front, but rather on the team as a whole. It was a down year and nearly everyone, from the players to the coaching staff, could’ve done better.
But it seems that the eyes always fall on the man wearing the ‘C’ on his chest, captain Claude Giroux.
Giroux is no stranger to criticism recently. His point totals have decreased in each of the last four seasons, and there has been much talk of his decline. There is no arguing against his decline, but it’s a matter of how sharp the decline will be. In four seasons he has dropped from 86 points to 58 points. While it’s easy to look at those numbers and place the blame solely on Giroux, it’s more logical to look beyond that.
After putting up 227 points in 207 games from 2011 to 2014, he has followed that up with 198 points in 241 games in the past three seasons. Those are still great numbers overall, but there have been a few reasons for his downfall.
First of all, Giroux isn’t getting any younger. NHL players peak in their mid-twenties, and that’s exactly when Giroux had his three best seasons (age 24 to 26). But that isn’t the only factor.
Giroux’s best seasons were in his prime ages, which is also coincidentally when he had the best talent around him. In his career-high 93-point season in 2011-12, the Flyers had a great group of forwards. Giroux played alongside a legend in Jaromir Jagr as well as Scott Hartnell and up-and-comers Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. He had a group of strong forwards behind him as well in Danny Briere, Matt Read, and James van Riemsdyk. Those Flyers were fun to watch, and Giroux was in the prime of his career.
“Well, it’s not fair just to look at Claude because when you look at that you’ve got to look at your team as well. In some of the years that he produced really big numbers, if you look at the group of forwards they had they were a very talented group,” he said of the Jagr, Hartnell, and Briere years.”
The Flyers have undoubtedly had less firepower around Giroux as his career in Philadelphia has moved on.
Last season it was most notable when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (82), Chris VandeVelde (81), Nick Cousins (60), and Roman Lyubimov (47) played in a combined 270 games. Going into this season they are all off the roster and replaced with better players.
Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom will inject youth and skill into the lineup, while Valtteri Filppula and Jordan Weal should both thrive in full seasons with the Flyers. Those are four scrubs, for the lack of a better term, being replaced with four legitimate top-nine players.
Hextall knows that as well. “We’ve got (Valtteri Filppula) for the whole year, (Jordan Weal) for the whole year. We’re gonna be a better top-nine group where he’s gonna have better players on a more consistent basis to play with.”
Giroux may have been playing with skilled players last season on his line, but without dangerous depth lines to balance it out, his line saw the toughest matchups which limited his options and scoring. Last year, the Flyers had two scoring lines, at most, and going into this season it looks like they should have at least three scoring lines as well as a fourth line that won’t just be a plug-and-play group.
Giroux will benefit greatly not only from better wingers alongside him, but also from the second and third lines, likely centered by Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick, to take some of the pressure off of him.
The coaching change may also have an impact as they have gone from a run-and-gun Peter Laviolette to a more conservative Dave Hakstol. “They played a little bit of a different system as well. I’m not so concerned with the numbers as most people are, but Claude does need to come back this year and be a better player than he was last year.”
Giroux should still be able to produce, however. It’s not fair to want Hakstol to tweak his system.
“Every system works. It’s the attention to detail and how good are your players? Every system works. In the end it comes down to your players executing, the talent level of your players,” Hextall said. “Are there some things we can do better? Of course there are. All of us. Claude, myself, every other player on our team, the coaches, we can all do better. We have to do better than we did last year.”
That’s going to be the key heading into this season. The Flyers are in a good position to succeed moving forward, but it all comes down to execution. Everyone from Dave Hakstol and Claude Giroux, all the way down to the 13th forward and 7th defenseman need to be better to help take the Flyers to the next level.
Claude Giroux has been on a steady decline in terms of production since 2014, but that should end this season.
58 points isn’t an accurate representation of his skillset, even as he ages a bit. He played in all 82 games last season, but he likely wasn’t playing at 100%. He dealt with offseason rehab after abdominal surgery and his summer of training was cut short due to that as well as September’s World Cup. We saw him begin to have some jump in his step late last season and that should continue this season after a full summer of training.
The kids are coming, but don’t forget about Claude. The captain is due for a huge bounceback season. The future is bright, and it starts now.
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