Off The Post-“Little G” No More: Giroux a Critical Component to Flyers’ Success
By Anthony Mingioni
Claude Giroux is not a physically imposing hockey player by any stretch of the imagination. At 5’11, 172lbs, if you evaluated skill based off of his suit measurements, he might not be playing above the American Hockey League level.
But that frame is about to shoulder a lot of responsibility for the Philadelphia Flyers this season and the team has every confidence that he’ll do that and more.
Giroux, the Flyers first round pick (22nd overall) in the 2006 Entry Draft, emerged last season as the team’s leading scorer, scoring 25 goals, 51 assists, for 76 points, along with a +20 rating. He added postseason numbers of 1-11-12 in 11 games played.
During the Flyers’ 2010 Eastern Conference Championship, he was a revelation potting 10 goals, 21 points in 23 games played. His Stanley Cup Final Game Three overtime goal lifted the Flyers back into the series against the Chicago Blackhawks and was a prime example that he was just as dangerous shooting the puck as he was distributing it.
He has often played on the wing for the team, even though his natural position is center, bouncing around from line to line, but almost always being the productive member of any unit he was on.
Looking past the physical attributes, it’s easy to see why Giroux is such a valuable player for this team. He possesses a hockey IQ second to none and an almost supernatural sense of what he wants to do with the puck and where he wants to put it.
If a player is on his line, the rule of thumb is: keep your stick on the ice and ready at all times, because somehow, someway, little Claude Giroux is going to get you the puck.
Former Flyer winger Simon Gagne, who played on Giroux’s line during his tenure, went so far as to compare his on ice vision with Peter Forsberg.
High praise indeed.
At the same time, detractors wondered if Giroux benefited from better matchups as centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter tended to log hard minutes against other teams’ best defensive players. It’s certainly a legitimate point.
The question going into this season that the Flyers need answered: is Giroux ready to handle those hard minutes and the best players from opposing sides? With his less than imposing size, will he get grinded down as the season wears on, thereby limiting his effectiveness by the time the playoffs roll around?
The Flyers have been very careful in incrementally adding ice time and responsibility since his full time debut during the 2008-2009 season and he has done nothing but reward them for their patience.
As Giroux became more of a major offensive threat and blossoming power winger James van Riemsdyk put on an impressive post season performance, it convinced management that while they wanted to accommodate goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s contract that the two would help in replacing the production of the players dealt.
“Giroux and van Riemsdyk were going to take over from Carter and Richards,” former GM Bob Clarke told the Hockey News. “That was already happening.”
-Giroux versus Richards-
If one had to make a one to one comparison as to which player Giroux is ostensibly replacing, the immediate assumption would have to be Richards, especially in terms of handling the hard minutes. While upon a cursory glance, Giroux would appear to be a more finesse player and Richards a more gritty type, looks can be deceiving.
How do they compare?
In looking at their best seasons to date, Giroux’s this season and Richards’ 2008-2009 campaign in which he went 30-50-80, +22, with 63 penalty minutes, there are some similarities between the two.
Giroux banked five less goals, but only four less points, and averaged over two minutes less ice time. Plus minus statistics, while sometimes misleading, are nonetheless very close to each other (Richards +22, Giroux +20).
Giroux has seen a generous increase in TOI since his rookie season, starting at 15:06, increasing to 16:36, before topping out at 19:23. Richards by comparison has seen reductions in TOI, from 21:44 in ’08-’09 to 20:24 in ’09-’10, and then a more pronounced drop to 18:52 this season.
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
This past season, Giroux also had advantages statistically over Richards beyond the fact that he outscored the later by 10 points. Giroux’s point totals had less reliance on the power play than Richards did: 25 percent to nearly 32 percent. While Richards has the splashier reputation in terms of being a shorthanded weapon, the two were just about dead even (9.2 percent to 9.1 percent) for short- handed point percentage.
While the Flyers certainly had a lot of depth in their lineup this year and had a need to divvy up those minutes, it’s still pretty telling that coach Peter Laviolette’s decisions in those areas would indicate that he viewed Giroux as beginning to emerge while perhaps Richards was stagnating, especially as the season wore on.
And in a salary cap era when you have a 12 year contractual investment in Richards, while Giroux entering the first year of a three year extension with a major bump in salary coming, the Flyers looked at the players like stocks and sold Richards while his perceived value was still high enough to net a sizable return.
The one area of concern for Giroux will be his faceoff win percentage. He was an even 50 percent, albeit he was bouncing from wing to pivot. Now the top line center for the Flyers, he will have to deal with team’s best faceoff men, many of whom will use their size advantage to bully him off the puck on draws. It’s an area of his game now that will have to improve.
He will also be a prime target for other teams to stop. In the past, he did have the advantage of being part of the second wave of Flyers’ attackers, with Richards and Carter getting most of the attention. Now opponents will take extra special care to do anything it takes to shut him down.
Finally, Giroux’s workload is about to increase exponentially. He will likely be pushing up and over 20:00 average TOI this season. There has been no indication that he can’t handle that load, but with Schenn’s inexperience, the lion’s share of minutes (along with Briere’s) is more than he’s had previously. This will be a situation where we see if the Flyers’ incremental approach with him pays off.
The Flyers have taken great care of but have not coddled or protected Giroux through the first two full seasons of his career. It is expected that the next step in his evolution as a player will see him enter the 90 to 100 point range with the added time and responsibility. He will gain more special teams opportunities than ever before and that will likely increase his point totals even more.
Giroux possesses tremendous gifts. While size might not be among them, his hockey IQ and on ice vision makes it likely that he will enjoy great success this season.
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