In attempting to explain the shocking off-season moves by Paul Holmgren, the argument has been made this season that the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter trade's were necessary for the emergence of Claude Giroux as a superstar. Most recently Tim Panaccio and Ian Laperriere made comments about Giroux getting more ice time and being relied on to be "the guy" on the ice for Flyers. This article was posted on hockey buzz yesterday.
Both Panaccio and Lappy make several incorrect assumptions about the superstars ice time.
In 2011 Claude Giroux was already seeing Top 6 minutes as part of the Flyers Top 2 lines. In fact, he lead the team amongst forwards in TOI/G and PP TOI/G. He was tied in Shifts Per Game with Mike Richards at 25.
In 2012 Giroux saw a modest increase in even-strength minutes per game from 14:13 to 15:23. His PP TOI/G increased from 3:04 to 3:54. However this increase in power play time can be attributed to the Flyers leading the league in power play opportunities. The Flyers had 40 more power plays than the year before. Or roughly an extra 1/2 power play per game. It is doubtful that the development of Giroux hinged on getting that extra minute of ice, the equivalent of an additional shift or two per game.
The major role changes for Giroux occurred after the 08-09 and 09-10 seasons. His minutes took a healthy bump after each of those seasons. And he was moved from wing to center for the 2010 playoffs and the entirety of the 2011 season. He saw the most dramatic gains in ice time in both shorthanded and power-play situations during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. All of this growth in ice time and responsibilities occurred before the trades.
Lappy brings up the idea that Carter and Richards would not have been comfortable in secondary scoring roles and with Giroux tasked with handling the bulk of the work. He says "With those two guys in front of him – you just can’t say OK Mike and Carts, you’re going to be secondary scoring and we’re going to leave the team to Giroux. "
Before the trades, Giroux was centering a top line with Jeff Carter and Zherdev/James Van Riemsdyk. Mike Richards was being used as a checking center, manning the point on the power play, and playing with Giroux on the penalty kill. Carter and Richards were already being used in supporting roles with Giroux in the Top 6. The Flyers overall had an excellent 2011 season with Giroux, Richards, and Carter playing together. They were one of the best teams in the East, despite the disappointing playoff exit. And if Richard's and Carter's 2012 Stanley Cup Finals performance is any indication, they were just as comfortable being secondary in LA. Carter can play the wing and still be effective and Mike Richards is excellent at taking shut-down defensive minutes. If anything, this Flyers team would have been stronger with Richards and Carter supporting Claude Giroux. Both brought great all-around skill sets that would have taken some of the defensive pressure off of Giroux and Danny Briere. Teams with lots of good, two-way, possession driving players in the Top 6 tend to do very well in the playoffs.
In my opinion, the superstar season we've seen from Claude Giroux is the result of his natural development as a player. The presence of Carter and Richards did nothing to detract from this development, and could have only enhanced Giroux's 2012 season.