Hart Trick: How the Should-Be MVP Claude Giroux Carried the Flyers to a Playoff Matchup with the Penguins

Photo Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, the best players in their sports raise their level higher than you ever thought possible to will their team to victory.

For the Flyers, their Hart Trophy-deserving captain Claude Giroux did something he had never done before in 738 career regular season games to ensure a must-win game was, in fact, a victory.

Giroux registered his first career regular season hat trick and in turn became just the sixth Flyer in franchise history to eclipse the 100-point plateau as the Flyers dismantled the New York Rangers 5-0 in the final game of the regular season Saturday.

The win catapulted the Flyers into the playoffs for the 39th time in 50 seasons played, and set up yet another series with the hated Pittsburgh Penguins that will begin sometime later this week.

We’ll dive into that pairing a little bit later in this post, only because it would be a disservice to Giroux to not focus on him first.

After all, the guy has put together one of the best Flyers seasons in history, and arguably could be the best.

I know what you’re thinking. He had a good season, but the best in Flyers’ history?

I’ll be honest, I was a little skeptical of my own thoughts at first. But the more I considered it, and the more I compared it to the other great seasons in Flyers history, it became more and more apparent that the 82 games we just watched Claude Giroux play, may have, in fact, been the best ever by one Flyers player.

And at worst, it was second-best.

To test my theory, I sat down with Hall of Fame reporter and Flyers historian Jay Greenberg to discuss the contenders. We narrowed it down to these:

  • Bob Clarke 1975-76
  • Mark Recchi 1992-93
  • Eric Lindros 1994-95
  • Eric Lindros 1995-96
  • Claude Giroux 2017-18

We didn’t consider Bernie Parent, because it’s impossible to compare a goalie to a skater, and we didn’t consider Mark Howe, who had some great seasons as a defenseman, but none that individually carried a team like the four forwards mentioned above.

We quickly ranked Recchi’s season fifth among the five – as great as it was – and it’s still a team record for points – it came in an era where scoring was much easier than it is today. Consider Recchi’s Flyers had a 50-goal scorer, a 40-goal scorer (Lindros) and two 30-goal scorers (Rod Brind’Amour and Kevin Dineen) and still finished in fifth place in a six-team division.

That was the other reason we ranked it fifth. As good a season as it was for Recchi, it didn’t elevate his team at all. Not only were they not a playoff team, but they finished with the eighth-worst record in the league in a season with one bad team (Tampa Bay) and two horrific expansion franchises (both San Jose and Ottawa lost more than 70 games – although it was the Sharks’ second season of existence).

Sometimes, guys on bad teams have great years, but it’s hard to count them as the best in the storied history of a franchise when there were comparable individual seasons that had teams with better outcomes.

The next on the list was Lindros in 1995-96. This is when he had 115 points, and was the last Flyer before Giroux to reach the 100-point plateau.

We ranked that fourth because as good a season as it was, Lindros had a lot of  help. The Flyers were the best team in the conference in the regular season. John LeClair nearly reached 100 points himself (97). And the Flyers were coming off a run to the Eastern Conference Finals and were a really good team who would reach the Finals a year later.

Yes, Lindros missed nine games this season, and with his points per game average probably would have eclipsed Recchi’s team points record if he played the full 82, but the fact still remains that while it was a great season, it didn’t elevate the team far beyond where it already was.

In third place we put Lindros in 1994-95. The only negative here was that it was a shortened season based on the lockout. But Lindros posted 70 points in 48 games and carried the Flyers – who had missed the playoffs for the five previous seasons – back to the playoffs and all the way to the conference finals.

He won the Hart trophy this year, and deservedly so. He was the most important player to his team in the NHL. The Flyers don’t have the success they do without Lindros being that good. Clarke doesn’t trade Recchi for LeClair and Eric Desjardins if Lindros wasn’t this good. It was only 48 games, but it was an incredible 48 games, and it could have been the best season ever by a Flyer if it hadn’t been a season cut short by labor strife.

That leaves Giroux and Clarke.

This is where the argument happens.

First, let’s look at the team around them:

Clarke’s season came as the Flyers were pursuing their third straight Stanley Cup – so the team was excellent – and according to Greenberg, even better than the two teams that won Cups.

Meanwhile, Giroux’s team needed to win their 82nd game just to make the playoffs.

Edge Giroux.

Using teammates as a comparison, Clarke posted a 119-point season, but Bill Barber had a 112-point season and Reggie Leach had a 91-point campaign. It was the best season in total points by one line in team history.

Giroux had one constant partner in Sean Couturier (76 points) and split the season with Jake Voracek (85 points) and Travis Konecny (47 points) as his other wingers.

It’s not even close. Clarke had more scoring talent with him. So, again, edge Giroux.

Clarke was more than just a prolific scorer though. He was an excellent defensive player. As a matter of fact, Clarke was not on the ice for a 5-on-5 goal against in 1975-76 until mid-January. Think about that for a second. That’s insane.

Giroux isn’t known as much for his defensive prowess as Clarke was. He had his best defensive year, but even he admits it’s not really a specialty.

“To be able to start the year and play – I think it’s my first time playing with one guy the whole year playing with Coots,” Giroux said. “And as a winger I don’t always do the right things, but I get away with it because I got Coots making the smart plays so I really feel lucky to play with him and we’re gonna hopefully keep going here.”

So, edge to Clarke there.

But Couturier is an interesting case that may, in fact, tip the scales here for Giroux.

Clarke certainly made Barber and Leach better players, but they were good enough to make Clarke a great player also.

Leach scored 61 goals in 1975-76, a Flyers record. Clarke set him up a ton, but to score that much is pretty incredible. Couturier only had 31 goals by comparison, meaning Giroux had to find other people to assist, or do it all himself (as he did Saturday).

Barber is a Hall of Famer. Teaming up with Clarke and getting to watch them play together was incredibly lucky for the Flyers fans of the day. Sure, the Bullies mentality was a draw, but it’s easy to forget the awesome offensive skill, creativity and chemistry Clarke and Barber had together.

Barber put up great season after great season. By comparison, Couturier’s career-best scoring season before this year was 39 points.

Now, he deserves credit for the breakout for sure, but it’s almost certain that a big reason for it was playing with Giroux.

As such, I think Giroux gets the nod here as well.

As you can see, his season has been incredibly special. He’s carried a team into the postseason that one could argue – that with 42 wins and 40 losses – isn’t really a playoff team.

But every time you questioned them, there was an answer. The team always found a way to respond. And when they had to do so in clutch situations, more often than not, Giroux was at the center of it.

Like yesterday.

100:

101…

102:

And hats amore:

Giroux finished the season second in the NHL in points with 102. He finished tied for first in assists with 68.

Just give him the damn Hart Trophy already, would ya?

The Pittsburgh Penguins

On first glance, this isn’t a great match-up for the Flyers. The Penguins won all four regular season contests between the two and scored five goals in each game.

However, it’s not that simple.

Two of those games went to overtime. The Flyers actually led in all four games. And, if there’s another team out there with goalie problems akin to the Flyers – it’s Pittsburgh.

The Penguins aren’t as deep a team this year as they were the previous two when they won the Stanley Cup, so they have holes that can be exploited.

But this was far from the most ideal matchup for the Flyers in the playoffs.

Washington would have been best. The Flyers can play with them five-on-five, and although the Caps’ power play is lethal, the Flyers are a pretty disciplined team these days and don’t take many penalties.

So, they could have neutralized Washington.

Pittsburgh, however, has the speed/size combination that is so prevalent among the best teams in the NHL. Look at Nashville. Look at Vegas. Look at Winnipeg. Look at Boston. Even teams the next tier down like Anaheim and Los Angeles employ that balanced mixture.

The Flyers don’t have that really at all.

And that’s where this is a bad pairing.

I think they can hang in the series with Pittsburgh – and make it a longer series than many might expect – and I’ll wait until later this week to give an actual prediction, but this is probably the second-best opponent for the Flyers out of the four they could have ended up with yesterday.

As for the schedule….

It should be out late today or tonight.

I spoke to an executive who told me that decisions are still being made on dates and times for games and that TV is the driving factor. Not only that, the NBA and NHL are working together – especially in cities that will have two playoff teams like Philly, Boston and Washington – to identify the best TV schedule.

With the Flyers-Penguins promising to be the biggest ratings winner for NBC in the first round, I’m certain they are going to push to have them play in their premium time slots – so I think a Sunday afternoon or two are likely.

That said, I’m not certain the league will want to rush to get the series started Wednesday to assure a Sunday on NBC for Game 3 – Especially since the Sixers will start at home and could get a Sunday home game as well.

I think the Flyers will either be Thursday/Sunday or even Friday/Sunday in Pittsburgh before coming back to Philly next week on Tuesday and Thursday for Games 3 and 4.

Just a prediction. I could be wrong, but I think they’ll try to get at least one of the Sixers’ first two home games out of the way first before bringing the Flyers back home.

 

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10 Responses

  1. So the left criticizes Trump for attacking Assad, then they complain about Assad gassing his own people including children. MAke up your mind dems.

  2. Except for the 90’s, Giroux is best Flyer ever. Got it.
    Also Giroux scored the most goals this year besides the guys who had more “help” and scored more.

  3. Flyers suck and are gonna lose in 4
    Sixers suck and will get swept too
    Phillies, well, Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
    And Eagles got lucky. You should thank Aaron Rodgers for getting hurt. And the refs who gave you 2 incompletes as touchdowns.
    NEW YORK RULES!!!

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