The Philadelphia Flyers had playoff aspirations this year, but those hopes appear to be in vain.
After approximately one-quarter of their regular season, they’re in second-last place in the Metropolitan Division, with an unimpressive 8-9-4 record. While it’s true they’re only five points behind the fourth-place Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s also true that the Flyers are behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils, as well as the Pens. Given the low regard many had for the Devils and Blue Jackets coming into the season, the optics of being below them in the standings are not going to endear them to Flyers fans.
Barring a minor miracle, the Flyers are looking at another lost season, another year outside the playoff picture looking in, another year of excuses and useless lip service. And although Philly’s roster was notably tinkered with by GM Chuck Fletcher last summer, it looks like there’s more work to be done.
That process absolutely ought to include the trading of Flyers captain and center Claude Giroux. While it’s never easy to emotionally connect with the reasons it makes sense to deal a cornerstone player, for the sake of the organization, and its ability to contend for a playoff spot a.s.a.p., it’s a move that must be made to end an era that didn’t include much team success.
Giroux is off to a solid start as an individual; he presently leads the Flyers in assists (11) and points (18) in 21 games. The problem is, the 33-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Right now, he’s Philly’s highest-paid player (with a $8.275-million-per-year salary cap hit), but he’s also the Flyers’ second-oldest player (only 35-year-old D-man Keith Yandle is older). It seems unlikely he’ll get a raise from Fletcher, but there might be a few teams out there willing to pay a premium to Philadelphia to give themselves a huge boost before the playoffs begin.
Really, Fletcher should easily get a first-round draft pick and a solid prospect for Giroux. But that may be setting the bar too low. A bidding war could be created among a handful of teams, and the price could rise above that level. Giroux has a no-movement clause to give him a say in where he wants to be moved to, but let’s remind ourselves that NMCs are a tool a player can use to keep himself from being dealt to a team or situation he wants no part of, but it almost never involves a player digging in his heels and refusing to be traded anywhere. But no player wants to work for a franchise that doesn’t think enough of him to keep him around.
The reshuffling process in Philly began in earnest last summer, and former key cog Jakub Voracek was shipped to Columbus for winger Cam Atkinson. If that sets the market for Giroux, Flyers fans are probably going to like what he’ll fetch in a trade. Giving Girioux up in any move isn’t necessarily a comment on Giroux as a player. He’s had a long and decent-enough run, but doesn’t have much to show for it. That’s the team’s fault as much as it is his.
In the past nine years, the Flyers have won one playoff series. Giroux has been around for 14 seasons, but only once – in 2009-10, Giroux’s second year as a Flyer – has Philadelphia won more than two rounds in any playoff tournament. The reality is that Giroux simply hasn’t been able to replicate his early-career success. Teams and stars run out of time, just like coaches and GMs. Sometimes, though it hurts to go through, fans must let go of their devotion to any one player, and accept moves that are right for the team in the bigger picture.
This is why the time has come for Giroux to play for a different team. Fletcher doesn’t want a scenario in which Giroux leaves for nothing (other than the cap space) as a UFA next summer. He also shouldn’t want to lock up Giroux with a contract extension that could pay him into and well-beyond his mid-30s. Giroux is a relative ironman, but there are many instances in which teams err by taking on a large cap hit with a player who’ll likely be on the decline and/or be sidelined by injuries before the end of the new contract.
That will only be Philadelphia’s problem if Fletcher allows it to be. If he chooses to move Giroux to a team that finished as a runner-up to the Vegas Golden Knights for the services of former Sabres star center Jack Eichel – say, a team like the surging Minnesota Wild – Fletcher could get a Giroux deal done well before the March 21st trade deadline. If he waits, there’s the chance Giroux is injured. There’s also the chance the Flyers heat up as a group and give Giroux the opportunity to stay on a team-friendly deal that probably will have to include a pay cut.
Ideally, the Flyers find a taker for Giroux at a price that addresses their issues. Right now, it’s about generating goals for Philadelphia. Giroux has done his best on offense, but it hasn’t led to enough wins. At some point in any star’s career, you have to start measuring the success you’ll have with them versus the impact they have on your salary cap. That’s where Philadelphia is with Giroux. He has been an admirable worker for the Flyers, but there haven’t been enough Flyer victories to consider him a must-retain-at-any-cost type of talent.
Even Wayne Gretzky got traded. All teams must try their best to develop players, but they ultimately have to manage under the cap, and that leads to tough decisions. The easy decision here is to keep Giroux in orange-and-black until he retires. The harder, better decision is to deal him when his value is still high.
If former Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno got a first-round pick and a fourth-rounder in their trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, Giroux should get at least that kind of bounty. Philadelphia is hard on its superstars, and there’s so much pressure to win, that getting Giroux out of there and in a less corrosive environment could lead to him repeating as a point-per-game player. He last reached that level in the 2018-19 campaign, but there’s still time for him to get back there.
Unfortunately, time for Giroux in Philly appears to be running out. It’s not necessarily bad news to see him on the trade block. It’s just life under a cap, in a business that’s entirely about winning. That hasn’t happened in Giroux’s time with the Flyers, so it’s just about time to let him go.