A few weeks ago, back while the Flyers were still on the Olympic break, we asked who the team's most valuable player (MVP) was up through that point in the season. We discussed the point in a fair amount of detail, but we all pretty much agreed that the answer was center Claude Giroux.
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We're feeling pretty good about that pick three weeks later. In eight games since the break -- which have seen the Flyers go 5-2-1 -- Giroux has put up four goals and eight assists. He's come up with huge plays when the Flyers have really needed them, such as the game-tying goal in an overtime win over Washington on March 2.
And as was the point we were trying to make when we had that discussion a few weeks ago, this has been happening for a while. He has 51 points in 41 games since the beginning of December. He's tied for fourth in the entire NHL in points with 69 (23 goals, 46 assists), and that's including his rough first month of the season. He's been outstanding, and is bar-none the biggest reason why the Flyers currently sit closer to the right side of the playoff picture than they do the wrong side of it.
So let's put aside the team argument and put things on a slightly bigger scope: what are the chances that by the end of the season, Claude Giroux finds himself in position to be one of the finalists for the Hart Trophy, or the MVP of the entire NHL?
First, let's make something clear here: Sidney Crosby, barring something wildly unforeseen, is going to win the Hart Trophy, and deservedly so. The guy is running laps around the rest of the NHL scoring leaders (even after zero points in two games this past weekend, teehee), and he's done so despite a ridiculous number of injuries up and down the Penguins lineup. He's far and away the biggest reason Pittsburgh is the No. 2 team in the conference right now. He's the MVP.
Now of course, that acknowledged, three guys get nominated (or are "finalists") for the award every year. After Giroux just missed out on a nomination following the 2011-12 season (he finished fourth in the final voting), he's got a decent chance of getting one of those three spots this year.
What needs to happen first?
The Flyers need to make the playoffs: Duh. With rare, rare exception typically saved for truly incredible individual performances (i.e. Steven Stamkos' 60-goal season in 2011-12, which earned him a second-place finish despite the Lightning missing the playoffs), guys don't get nominated if they don't make the playoffs. Fair or not, there's a big team-level side of the award that gets taken into consideration. If Giroux wants to be in the discussion, pushing the Flyers off the playoff bubble and firmly into the postseason (a la last year's winner, Alex Ovechkin) is the best way to do that and get noticed by the voters. Especially given the Flyers' ridiculous schedule down the stretch.
Giroux needs to put up some ridiculous scoring numbers: Again, duh. There are a lot of voters who pretty much just look at scoring totals when putting together their Hart ballots. As mentioned, Giroux's currently doing pretty well in that department. But given the position of a few guys ahead of him, he'll need to really kick it into high gear to get close enough to pick up the necessary votes. Think something like 18-20 points in his final 15 games, on top of the 69 he's already put up. Is that feasible? Given what he's been doing for the last few months, it's not at all out of the question. But it'll take a superhuman effort -- even beyond what he's already done this year.
Some of the guys ahead of him will need to slow down and/or have their teams collapse: Part of what makes it so tough on Giroux is the number of guys having really good years that he'll have to jump over.
* Phil Kessel (RW, Toronto): Tied for second in the league in scoring (73 points in 69 games) and playing in the hockey capital of the world in Toronto, it seems pretty likely that the only way Kessel doesn't get nominated is if the Leafs (currently 3rd in the Atlantic and six points clear of ninth place) completely fall apart and miss the playoffs. He's been far and away the best player on the Leafs -- and one of the best forwards in hockey -- all year, and like Giroux, he's especially been on a tear over the season's past couple of months and down the stretch.
* Ryan Getzlaf (C, Anaheim): The top forward on one of the top teams in the league, Getzlaf seemed like a lock for a finalist spot and maybe even looked like a potential challenger to Crosby for the award itself. He still might be a lock for a finalist's spot, as he's tied with Kessel in scoring despite playing in five fewer games. But Anaheim has gone from sitting at the top of the league's standings (by a lot) to fighting with San Jose for the top spot in its own division, thanks to a pedestrian 6-6-2 run in its last 14 games. That's no fault of Getzlaf's -- he's hummed along at around a point-per-game in that time -- but if there's any chance he falls out of the Top 3, it'll be based on his team continuing to cool off a bit.
* Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane (C/RW, Chicago): Both of these guys are having outstanding years, with Toews being the captain and all-around anchor of the reigning Cup champions and Kane being their leading scorer. They're both outstanding players and either one of them is probably good enough to get considered for the Hart. Of course, that could very well be their problem: with both of them being on the same team, there's a decent chance that unless one of them goes on a total scoring tear in the season's final month that pushes them over, say, St. Louis and into the top spot in the Central Division, they'll probably steal some votes from one another and neither one will end up being a real threat to be a finalist.
* Ben Bishop (G, Tampa Bay): Usually one goalie at least finds their way into the conversation, and this year Bishop seems like the one that's most likely to get there. In a season that's seen their best player (Steven Stamkos) miss four months with a broken leg and their second-best player (Martin St. Louis) recently get traded, Bishop -- he of the .929 save percentage -- is far and away the reason the Lightning have remained firmly in the playoff picture all season.
* Tyler Seguin (C, Dallas): This one is probably the longest shot on here, I'd think, for two reasons. One, playing in Dallas -- not a particularly large hockey market -- probably puts Seguin at a disadvantage to just about everyone else on this list. And two, you could probably make the argument that Seguin's teammate, Jamie Benn, has been just as important to the Stars' success this year as Seguin has, and that could detract from his case. However, Seguin's been outstanding and is the driving force behind the Stars' (somewhat surprising) run towards a likely playoff spot.
There are a few other guys I could mention there -- Ovechkin and Joe Pavelski would probably be the next two if I had any more space to write -- but you get the point. In all honesty, right now it's almost certainly Kessel and Getzlaf who are the two frontrunners to join Crosby at the awards ceremony in Vegas, and in addition to Giroux's fantastic play of late continuing, he'll probably need one of those guys (and their teams) to slow down significantly down the stretch to have a chance at a spot.
Still, it's pretty incredible that given the start he had, we're sitting here having this conversation. But it's completely warranted. Giroux's performance has put him right in the conversation, and he's ramped it up as the games have become more important.
And as our own Charlie O'Connor pointed out on last week's BSH Radio, Giroux may get some bonus points in the leadership department based on him coming out and saying "we will make the playoffs" when the Flyers were sitting at the very bottom of the NHL standings. He's shown confidence in this team and in himself, and it's all worked out pretty well. If the Flyers do make the playoffs, Giroux deserves all the votes he gets.