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2016-17 Flyers season review: Claude Giroux failed to bounce back

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After a poor close to the 2015-16 season, the hope was that offseason surgery would have Claude Giroux back to his old self this past year. Unfortunately, that didn’t exactly happen.

Kate Frese Photography

It wasn’t all that long ago that the conversation surrounding Claude Giroux was not driven by the question of “is he still a great player?” and instead was focused around measuring just how great of a player he was. Yes, the infamous “best player in the world” comment from head coach Peter Laviolette is over five years old now, and was always hyperbole. But just three summers ago, he was coming off a season in which he was nominated for the Hart Trophy, and two years past, he was resting after delivering a performance that ranked him tied for 10th in the NHL in points.

Those days seem like a lifetime ago now.

Giroux’s play during the 2015-16 season was fine at first glance. But the solid surface numbers masked decline in his underlying statistics, and failed to highlight Giroux’s struggles in the final weeks of the season, which notably carried over into the playoffs. In exit interviews, Giroux swore that injuries had not caused his late-season swoon, but shortly thereafter he went under the knife for hip and sports hernia surgeries. That set fans’ minds at ease briefly; Giroux wasn’t in decline, he was just injured, and would be back to his old self for the following year.

That’s not what happened. Instead, Giroux posted his worst full-season scoring rate since his first complete NHL season, finishing with just 14 goals and 44 assists for a total of 58 points. Giroux eventually admitted that the offseason surgery had bothered him throughout the year, but that admission came with no guarantee that Giroux would ever return to pre-surgery heights. Regardless of the reasons, for those concerned that Claude Giroux’s days as a truly elite hockey player were finished, this year provided strong surface-level evidence.

But is Giroux truly in rapid decline, or did extenuating circumstance cause his disappointing year? Does there remain hope in the numbers that the Flyers’ captain can stabilize, or even bounce back next season?

Claude Giroux

Category Status
Category Status
Position C
Age 29
Contract Status Signed Through 2021-22 for $8,275,000 per year

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
82 14 44 58 38 199 7.0%

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shots on Goal/60 Shot Attempts/60 Penalty Differential
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shots on Goal/60 Shot Attempts/60 Penalty Differential
0.94 0.57 5.89 10.37 +3

5v5 On-Ice Metrics

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For% RelTM Expected Goals For % Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For% RelTM Expected Goals For % Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
51.52% +1.12% +1.1% 48.24% -1.54% 42.00% 97.3

5v5 Manually-Tracked Metrics

Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
First 30 Games 19.10 (9th among forwards) 52.27% (6th) 25.59 (3rd) 15.77 (8th) 53.08% (5th) 16.15% (8th) 52.74% (5th) -4.35% (12th) -1.10% (7th)
Final 38 Games 20.73 (5th) 59.66% (4th) 25.55 (2nd) 15.66 (11th) 57.23% (1st) 16.35% (6th) 52.47% (3rd) -5.98% (9th) 3.76% (6th)
All 68 Games in Dataset 19.99 (5th) 56.49% (7th) 25.12 (3rd) 15.71 (10th) 55.36% (5th) 16.26% (8th) 52.59% (3rd) -5.25% (11th) 1.62% (6th)

Giroux remains awesome on the power play

For three straight seasons from ages 23 through 25, Claude Giroux scored at a point-per-game-or-better pace, rightfully earning him “elite” status in the NHL. During that three-year span, Giroux had basically no holes in his statistical resume: he drove play and scored at a 1C level at 5-on-5, produced stellar results on the penalty kill, and was probably the best power play forward in hockey.

That last claim isn’t an exaggeration. From 2011-2014, Claude Giroux led all NHL players in points at 5-on-4 with 87, and was second only to Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom in points per 60 minutes. Of course, Backstrom also was passing to the best goal scorer of the era in Alexander Ovechkin, which served to inflate the center's scoring just a bit. In Philadelphia, Giroux didn’t have a pure sniper, yet he matched Backstrom point for point.

No longer is Giroux the “point-per-game-plus” player that he was during that stretch. But he remains one of the league’s most potent power play quarterbacks.

The raw production at 5v4 is still elite. This season, Giroux finished with 29 points in the situation, tied for second in the NHL (with Nikita Kucherov) among forwards. Only his old pal Backstrom topped him. As for Points/60, Giroux’s 6.09 is slightly less impressive, but is still good for 20th among forwards and remains in high-end territory. In addition, he quarterbacked the best shot-producing power play in hockey last season. In terms of on-ice shots on goal at 5v4, Flyers players ranked first through fourth in the league, all between 68 and 70 SOG/60.

Giroux directly drove much of that volume, via his contributions in the neutral and offensive zones. His 86.0% Controlled Entry Percentage on the power play led all Flyers last year, and his 107 total entries were second only to Jakub Voracek. In addition, his 111 primary shot assists (the final pass preceding a shot) led the team at 5v4, and his Primary Shot Contributions per 60 (primary shot assists + actual unblocked shots taken) rate of 36.73 trailed only that of Shayne Gostisbehere.

If anything, Giroux was a little unlucky on the power play this year, as he only tallied points on 65.9% of the Flyers’ PP goals scored while he was on the ice — a career low. Considering the fact that he remains the driving force behind the Philadelphia top unit and his underlying numbers remain stellar, it’s reasonable to expect that rate to clear 70 percent at least next season, adding a couple more points to Giroux’s totals.

The overall point production may be declining for Claude Giroux, but that’s not because of his performance on the power play. The Flyers’ captain remains a top-tier PP quarterback and one of the best in hockey.

His 5-on-5 numbers are getting ugly

In my 2016 season review of Claude Giroux, I wrote the following regarding his performance, and the concerns that arose from worrying trends in his statistical profile.

The real concern isn't that the Giroux of 2015-16 was a bad player, or even an overpaid one, because neither label is accurate. It's that if Giroux's performance took a decent-sized drop from age 25 to age 27, what happens when he hits 30? What about 32? Is this the start of an irreversible downward trend for a player who has still six more years left on a contract paying him like a franchise center?

The 2015-16 season wasn’t especially poor by itself. But with Giroux’s play-driving metrics at 5v5 dropping to middle-sixer levels, and his even strength point production having done the same in 2014-15 and 2015-16, it was fair to ask whether Giroux’s career was entering the “downward slope” stage.

Giroux did nothing to quell those fears last season. In fact, his results at 5v5 were closer to “actually bad” than “merely concerning” like they were in 2015-16.

Simply put, Claude Giroux barely scored during 5-on-5 situations during the 2016-17 season. He tallied just 18 points in over 1100 minutes of play, good for a painful 0.94 Points/60. That ranked him 12th among Flyers forwards, ahead of only Roman Lyubimov and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Yes, that’s right — even Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise were more efficient 5v5 scorers last season than Claude Giroux.

His status relative to peers around the league was even more cringe-inducing. Giroux ranked 327th in Points/60 among NHL forwards with at least 400 minutes at 5v5. If we assume that players in the top-90 scored like first liners last year (30 teams, three players on each line), then Giroux fell into the bucket of a fourth line scorer in 2016-17, behind luminaries like Luke Glendening and Cedric Paquette.

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As his scoring rates fell off a cliff, Giroux’s play-driving metrics showed no signs of improvement from the mediocre numbers he delivered in 2015-16. His relative Corsi (which measures to what degree the team performs better or worse in shot differential with a single player on the ice versus the bench) was +1.12 percent, a passable result for some but severely disappointing for one who just two seasons prior was sitting at +5.02%. His performance in CF%RelTM (a similar metric which measures whether teammates post better results with a player versus when away from him) was almost identical to his Corsi Rel, checking in at +1.1%. Again, that result would not be terrible for most players, but for a formerly-elite play-driver, it’s underwhelming to say the least.

Weighted metrics are even less forgiving. While Giroux remained positive relative to his teammates by raw shot differential, his performance in Expected Goals (which weighs each shot created and allowed with a player on the ice for location and quality) was actually in the red. Following up a 2015-16 season where he was -1.07% in xG Relative, Giroux basically replicated his results, finishing at -1.54% this time around.

Last year, when I evaluated Giroux’s trend lines in both 5v5 scoring and play-driving, the direction wasn’t necessarily clear cut. He had scored at a slightly more efficient rate in 2015-16 versus 2014-15, and his drop in relative Corsi metrics could have easily been chalked up to a one-year fluke. But when we re-evaluate the charts from last year’s review with 2016-17 data points plotted, the trajectory is far more obvious than before.

Giroux has now been in the second liner range from a play-driving standpoint for two straight seasons, and gets no boost from shot quality either. As for his scoring, the decent 1.72 Points/60 rate from 2015-16 is looking more like an anomaly than the positive sign many hoped it was this time last year, considering his especially-poor rate in 2016-17.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Claude Giroux’s performance at even strength last season was poor, and it didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, either. It’s a continuation of a previously noted trend.

Can Giroux’s surgery be blamed?

In last year’s review, I theorized that Giroux’s dropoff in 5v5 play-driving during the final months of the season could be attributed (at least partially) to the captain playing through a rapidly-worsening injury. Over the summer, Giroux underwent hip and sports hernia surgeries, confirming the hypothesis that he was not himself at the end of the year and into the playoffs. The hope was that a newly-healthy Giroux would bounce back statistically and look far more like the player from the first two-thirds of the 2015-16 season.

That clearly didn’t happen. It came as no surprise in March when Giroux admitted that the aftereffects of the surgery had lingered into the 2016-17 season and hampered his overall game.

"When you try to make plays you used to make and can't really make them, it is frustrating and confusing," Giroux said. "When you start getting the confidence back, you know you can make those plays you just go out there and make it happen."

While this provided an explanation for Giroux’s underwhelming season, it wasn’t necessarily good news. Sometimes, a major surgery can sap something from an NHL player, and prevent him from ever again reaching past heights.

Yet there was optimism surrounding Giroux in March and April, moreso than his disappointing year would have one expect. The Flyers’ captain noted that he felt healthier than he had all year long, and by the eye test, he certainly looked a step quicker as the schedule came to a close.

But do the raw numbers back up Giroux’s assertion? Did his results actually improve near the end of the season? The evidence is ambiguous.

Let’s start by taking a look at his month-by-month performance at 5v5, using his Corsi Relative, xG Relative, and Points/60 metrics.

Giroux 5v5 Results By Month

Month 5v5 Score Adjusted-Corsi Rel 5v5 xG Rel 5v5 Points/60
Month 5v5 Score Adjusted-Corsi Rel 5v5 xG Rel 5v5 Points/60
October +2.08% +2.02% 2.08
November -4.98% -5.24% 0.32
December +3.93% +4.88% 1.59
January +3.08% -3.99% 0.69
February -3.06% -2.16% 0.00
March +4.02% -3.98% 1.82
April +3.09% +1.66% 0.00

Giroux did have a very strong March in terms of Corsi and point production. But even then, his xG Relative was still underwater, implying that much of his strong shot differential was a bit hollow. While his xG did creep up into the black during the five games in April, Giroux didn’t score a 5v5 point in those games.

In fact, his best two all-around months came in 2016. To start the season, Giroux drove play like a high-end second liner and scored like a top liner, mere months after his surgery. Then, he posted his best relative on-ice metrics of his season in December while still producing points at an acceptable rate. There isn’t a clear cut upward trajectory to be found here — it just looks like the usual ups-and-downs that come with a full NHL season.

Stats like Corsi, Expected Goals and Points/60 measure the results of a player, but not the inputs that go into those results. To measure the inputs, we luckily have Corey Sznajder’s microstatistics available. Maybe they show a measurable improvement in Giroux’s contributions to concrete events.

Giroux First 30 Games vs. Final 38 Games

Portion of Season Controlled Entry Percentage Controlled Exit Percentage Primary Shot Contributions/60
Portion of Season Controlled Entry Percentage Controlled Exit Percentage Primary Shot Contributions/60
First 30 Games 52.27% 53.08% 25.59
Final 38 Games 59.66% 57.23% 25.55

We do have something here. Giroux was clearly more efficient in his play with the puck in both the defensive and neutral zones during the latter stages of the season, when presumably he was “healthier.” However, that improvement did not extend to his shot creation in the offensive zone, as his Primary Shot Contributions/60 rate held stable.

There is some basis to the idea that Giroux “looked” better at the end of the season. But unfortunately, it didn’t manifest itself in dramatically improved results.

Did bad luck cause this issues? Or is it something else?

A recurring theme of these Flyers season reviews for 2016-17 has been the impact of bad luck and mitigating circumstances on the results of the players. Players like Shayne Gostisbehere and Jakub Voracek dealt with the cold realities of random variance, while Ivan Provorov and Wayne Simmonds were likely held back by struggling teammates. Unsurprisingly, Claude Giroux was caught up in the team-wide issues as well.

To start, the minuscule raw production at 5v5 was almost certainly influenced by bad luck. He only tallied a point on 52.9% of the total Flyers goals that occurred with Giroux on the ice, ranking him 333rd among forwards in the league with that rate. And it came despite Giroux finishing fourth on the team in Primary Shot Contributions/60 at 24.30. He clearly was helping to create a significant amount of shots — they just rarely ended up in the net. Had Giroux earned a point on his career average (prior to 2016-17) of 74.9% on-ice goals, that would have bumped him up to a 1.27 Points/60. Still not in line with Giroux’s previous standards, of course, but not nearly as ugly as his actual 0.94.

Then, there’s the fact that the entire team struggled to finish at 5v5. With Giroux on the ice, the Flyers’ on-ice shooting percentage was 5.94%, a career-low for the captain. Part of that was on Giroux, as his personal shooting percentage last season was 5.31%, but his teammates clearly couldn’t put the puck in the net, either.

As for Giroux’s mediocre play-driving metrics, there is one reason for optimism after diving deeper. Giroux’s Neutral Zone Score — which has proven to be the most repeatable component of play-driving metrics — was a strong 52.59% in the 68 games of our current dataset, placing him third on the Flyers. That even topped usual Corsi studs Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl. In the neutral zone at the very least, Giroux was still driving positive outcomes.

However, bad luck simply doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to Claude Giroux. Particularly in the offensive zone, something seems to be broken with the formerly-elite center.

For starters, he’s shooting the puck far less than before at 5v5. Giroux’s 5.89 Shots on Goal/60 and 10.37 Shot Attempts/60 in 2016-17 were both career lows. And just as concerning, the quality of Giroux’s shots is slipping as well.

Giroux Individual Expected Goal Creation by Year

Season Total 5v5 Individual Expected Goals Generated Average xG Value of Each Shot
Season Total 5v5 Individual Expected Goals Generated Average xG Value of Each Shot
2013-14 12.94 0.063
2014-15 14.06 0.058
2015-16 10.28 0.054
2016-17 8.06 0.052

It’s no secret why Giroux’s goal totals (14) fell off a cliff this past season. He’s taking fewer shots, and when he takes those shots, they’re coming from further out and in less dangerous circumstances. Giroux’s low on-ice and personal shooting percentages can be expected to regress next year in a positive way — he did deal with poor fortune. But Giroux himself is also contributing to the issue by not getting to high-danger areas nearly as much as in the past.

It’s obvious via his high-end power play metrics that Giroux can still distribute the puck at an elite level when given time and space. But at 29, maybe Claude Giroux simply can’t physically do the offensive zone dirty work anymore, in terms of personally generating quality chances on a regular basis.

What comes next for Claude Giroux

Instead of posting the bounce-back season that fans were expecting, Claude Giroux’s downward statistical trend continued in 2016-17. By the raw numbers, he posted his lowest point-per-game rate since his first full NHL season, and the fewest amount of total goals that he has ever delivered in a complete year. In addition, he scored at a fourth line rate at 5v5, and his play-driving metrics were merely in the realm of mediocre. There is no other way to describe Claude Giroux’s 2016-17 season other than dubbing it a major disappointment.

That’s not to say that Giroux didn’t still provide value. He remained one of the league’s best power play threats, drew more penalties than he took (13 drawn, 10 taken), and remained a stellar faceoff weapon in the dot. Even a model such as DTMAboutHeart’s Goals Above Replacement that viewed Giroux as essentially a replacement level player at 5v5 (+0.1 5v5 GAR) this year still had the Flyers’ captain as a nine-GAR contributor on the whole. We’re not talking about a bad hockey player here.

Bad luck did also play a role in Giroux’s season, and that can’t be ignored. Despite directly contributing to the creation of a large number of shots at 5v5, Giroux picked up points on a fairly low percentage of the goals scored while he was on the ice. That was more fluky than anything else. In addition, the Flyers’ captain was caught up in the team shooting percentage issue, which was partially due to random variance, and partially due to the types of shots that most players on the team were creating. There’s a good chance that was a system issue rather than a roster-wide talent problem.

But even after normalizing both of those issues to Giroux’s pre-2016-17 averages, it only provides about a 10-11 point boost, which still leaves him with numbers very similar to the 2015-16 season. That’s a sub-70 point year, with 5v5 rate scoring in the low-end second liner/high-end third liner range. As long as the power play production holds, it’s probably enough to keep Claude Giroux a low-end first line/high-end second line center in terms of overall value added next season, and it’s also a reasonable projection for Giroux in 2017-18. Still, that’s far from superstar level.

Giroux can still push positive outcomes in the middle of the ice, as shown by his strong Neutral Zone Score and a Controlled Entry Rate of 56.30% that was a dramatic improvement over 2015-16’s 49.01 percent. But once in the offensive zone, Giroux simply is not the dangerous weapon he once was. He hasn’t finished with a 5v5 Points/60 rate over 2.0 since 2013-14, and his individual Expected Goal creation has been in steady decline as well.

Could Giroux still get back to his old self? It’s always possible, and the apparent surgery-related issues of 2015-16 and 2016-17 certainly provide a ready-made narrative for the most optimistic of fans. “He just needs to get fully healthy,” they say, “and then the old Giroux will be back!”

Ron Hextall seems to subscribe to that belief, at least publicly. Following the season, the Flyers’ general manager admitted that Giroux didn’t have a great year, but also defended his team’s captain. "He's not on the decline. I know this: I'll be shocked next year if you guys don't ask me in January, 'Well, how has G turned this around?' Hextall said. “He's a very driven athlete, he's very driven. I know he's going to train hard this year. We're going to make some minor tweaks in how he trains. He trains hard."

But it’s a legitimate possibility that Giroux will never be fully healthy again, in the sense that multiple surgeries and 650+ hockey games at the NHL level have taken their toll on his body. No one should doubt that Giroux is taking his offseason training very seriously this summer, but Father Time remains unbeaten. At this point, a return of Hart Trophy contender Claude Giroux should be viewed as an optimistic hope rather than a likelihood.

If this is the new normal for Giroux, the Flyers should accept that the captain is no longer matchup-proof, in the sense that he cannot elevate the play of any linemate to respectability or flourish in the toughest minutes possible without help. In addition, they need to account for the fact that Giroux apparently struggles now to create his own shot in dangerous areas at 5v5, and surround him with forwards who make themselves targets for passes in the slot and in front of the net.

Jordan Weal showcased that ability late last season, and posted strong results with Giroux at 5v5 in their short time together (54.8% Corsi For, 62.5% Goals For). He might work as a new wingman for the captain. Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, or even Oskar Lindblom could be fits as well. Giroux can still distribute at a high level (as he proves on the power play), so put him with players who can get open for those passes in high-danger areas and let him work his magic.

Claude Giroux isn’t finished as a valuable player in the NHL. But his performance over the past two seasons should have fans of the team re-calibrating their expectations for what the captain can realistically deliver moving forward. And if he bounces back entirely next season and proves all the numbers wrong, then it’s a major pleasant surprise for all involved.


All statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick, Stats.Hockeyanalysis.com, Corsica.Hockey, or manually-tracked by Corey Sznajder.