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Philadelphia Flyers 2017-18 Midterm Report Cards: Top Wingers

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A few of the Flyers’ big names — including the team’s captain and former center — have had pretty eventful first halves of the 2017-18 season, but for different reasons between them.

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The Old Winger and The New Winger having a chat.
Kate Frese / SBNation

Yesterday, we began our week-long look at how the Flyers have fared up to the halfway mark of the season by looking at the team’s four main centers this season. Today, we’ll follow that up by doing the same look at the team’s nine wingers.

Since the Flyers’ nine wingers can pretty neatly be put in three groups based on average ice time, we’ll break this section into three posts as such. Here, we’ll look at the three wingers at the top of the lineup — the big guns, so to speak. A bit later in the day, we’ll go through the three guys that we’ll call depth wingers, ones with ice time befitting of middle-6 forwards. And finally, later still in the afternoon, we’ll look at the three wingers that are playing fourth-line minutes.

With that, let’s begin. (Stats below are from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com, corsica.hockey, and hockeyviz.com. Any statistics regarding ranks relative to the NHL are through Sunday’s games.)


Claude Giroux

Overall Numbers: 14 G, 38 A in 42 GP; 20:29 TOI per game
5-on-5 On-Ice Performance: 53.9% Corsi-For, 56.8% Expected Goals For, 2.91 Points per 60

In short: After a shift to the wing, Giroux has looked so good this season that he’s managed to make pre-season concerns about his decline look thoroughly ridiculous.

How so? Let’s see here:

  • If Claude Giroux maintains his current scoring pace and plays all 82 games, he’d end this season with 102 points. His career-high is 93.
  • After a few seasons of being a guy who lit up the scoreboard on the power play but had trouble pulling offense together at 5-on-5, Giroux is currently doing both of these things; as of this writing on Monday night, Giroux is ninth in the league in power play points with 17, and he’s tied for second in 5-on-5 points with 30. (For reference, Giroux had 18 5-on-5 points all of last season.)
  • His total of 52 points, by the way, ranks him tied-for-second in the NHL, behind only Nikita Kucherov, who I’m pretty sure isn’t a real human being but is rather a hockey-playing cyborg created to destroy all human life forms in his path.
  • Also, his on-ice shot differentials — which have lagged a bit in the past couple of years — are at top-line levels again, and trail only Couturier among Flyers forwards. And when you adjust those for quality (by way of expected goals), things look significantly better for Giroux, whose 56.8 percent Expected Goals For % and 9.2 percent expected goals relative to his teammates both lead all Flyers.
  • And on top of all of this, no matter how many numbers we can throw out there, anyone watching Giroux can tell just how much better he looks this season. He’s a plus skater again, and rarely seems to find himself in the wrong place the way he did at times in the past few years. Simply casting all of his struggles over the last two seasons to his core injury and subsequent recovery seemed a bit like wishful thinking at the time, but man, the guy we’ve watched this year barely looks anything like the one we saw in Dave Hakstol’s first two seasons.

There are a number of possible explanations for Giroux’s bounce-back. Did the shift to the wing — a risky move by Dave Hakstol that has clearly paid off — free him up a bit offensively? Has playing alongside Couturier for most of the season made a big difference? Whatever the case may be, Claude Giroux is Claude Giroux again, and it’s hard to overstate just how big of a deal this is for the Flyers, who can at least for now not worry as much about whether their captain and franchise player will be a problem for the last few years of his massive contract.

Yeah, but: While Giroux has clearly been very good, he’s getting a bit lucky out there, right? Guy’s obviously not going to shoot 17 percent or hold a 103.6 PDO forever. What if the bounce-back we’re seeing is almost entirely fueled by just good luck that he wasn’t getting last year? Also, what if the only reason his on-ice numbers are great is because he’s with Couturier, who’s been a strong on-ice possession driver for years now?

Still, though ... I do think it’s unlikely that Giroux scores at quite the rate he has so far in the season’s second half. The shooting percentage gods have smiled on him this season, after doing the polar opposite of that last year. Whether it’s next week, next month, or next year, at some point the Flyers will probably stop scoring on 11 percent of the shots they take while Giroux is on the ice at 5-on-5.

But with that said, the fact that we’re even discussing a string of hot shooting for Giroux is a welcome development. Numbers over the past couple of seasons showed a troubling decline in percentages and shot quality for Giroux, and when you consider that he’s in the process of exiting his real prime years, there were reasons to wonder if those percentages would ever really bounce back. That we’re even in position to ask “hey, is Giroux TOO hot right now?” puts those concerns on the back-burner for a while.

As for the possibility that his success is a product of playing alongside Couturier, I for one am very much OK with any plan that turns a guy who’d never topped 39 points in a season and a guy who had been showing major statistical signs of decline into point-per-game players. This arrangement is clearly working out well for both of them, and for the Flyers as well. Would it be worthwhile to try them apart for a few games, just to see how spreading the wealth works? I wouldn’t be opposed to it. But it’s tough to mess with what is quite obviously working.

Grade: A+. Entering the season, the idea that Claude Giroux would be threatening his career-high in points would have been unthinkable. The fact that it’s even in the realm of possibility shows us how much the captain has bounced back, and the potential that Giroux may have a couple more seasons of high-end production in him is as important as anything else the Flyers get out of this season.

Poll

How would you grade Claude Giroux’s play in the first half of the 2017-18 season?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    A+
    (952 votes)
  • 19%
    A
    (252 votes)
  • 3%
    A-
    (44 votes)
  • 1%
    B+
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    B
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    B-
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    C+
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    C
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    C-
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    D+
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    D-
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (5 votes)
1276 votes total Vote Now

Jakub Voracek

Overall Numbers: 8 G, 43 A in 42 GP; 19:36 TOI per game
5-on-5 On-Ice Performance: 50.1% Corsi-For, 52.4% Expected Goals For, 2.34 Points per 60

In short: After a 2016-17 that raised some concerns, Voracek is largely back to being the player that Flyers fans grew used to earlier in this decade.

How so? For one, let’s look at the NHL assist leaderboard as of Monday night.

Five apples clear of the guy in second place, who happens to be his teammate. That’ll do. That’ll do just fine.

Really, Voracek is basically just showing that his numbers from last season, which figured to be either an aberrant off-year from a player with an elite track record or the start of a long-term decline, were the former rather than the latter. Plus, like Giroux, Voracek just looks better than he did last year, y’know? The guy who we’ve grown used to being strong on the puck, entering the offensive zone with a head of steam and finding an open man for a good shot? We’ve seen that guy a lot this year. And as BSH Radio’s Charlie O’Connor recently wrote at The Athletic, a key to Voracek’s success this season has been an increased emphasis on carrying the puck in with control, something that is exactly what a player like him should be doing.

Yes, sometimes you wish that Jake would shoot the puck a bit more. Sure. But when the guy is doing a better job of setting up his teammates than anyone in hockey, you kind of have to live with it, because it’s working out pretty well for everyone involved.

Yeah, but: What’s up with his possession numbers? A big part of why Jake’s been so successful over most of his Flyers tenure is his ability to drive play. What’s going on there?

Still, though ... Voracek was doing just fine in terms of possession/play-driving numbers up until around Thanksgiving. See if you can spot the change that was made around that time for Voracek.

via hockeyviz.com

Is it theoretically possible that Couturier was holding Voracek up, and once Jake was moved off of a line with him and Giroux he regressed in kind? I mean, I guess. But what’s far more likely here is that playing with Valtteri Filppula — who, as we discussed yesterday, has trended in the wrong direction this season — has held back Voracek and Michael Raffl, and is the primary cause of Voracek’s dip in this category. I understand why Dave Hakstol may not fully reunite the Couturier - Giroux - Voracek line again any time soon, but it’d be nice to see Voracek with a different center to see if he can break out of this funk he’s in here, because everything else has been going quite well for him.

Grade: A. Admittedly, it feels a little nitpicky to not give the best possible grade to the guy who’s leading the NHL in a major statistical category, but the just-OK possession numbers keep him from an A+, even if they likely aren’t his fault. Still, Voracek certainly seems to have in large part rebounded from a 2016-17 campaign that raised a number of red flags, and much like with Giroux, the idea that the Flyers can breathe easier regarding a player they’ve got under contract for over $8 million into next decade is quite the welcome development.

Poll

How would you grade Jakub Voracek’s play in the first half of the 2017-18 season?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    A+
    (400 votes)
  • 39%
    A
    (424 votes)
  • 16%
    A-
    (178 votes)
  • 3%
    B+
    (38 votes)
  • 1%
    B
    (17 votes)
  • 0%
    B-
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    C+
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    C
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    C-
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    D+
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    D-
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    F
    (5 votes)
1076 votes total Vote Now

Wayne Simmonds

Overall Numbers: 14 G, 12 A in 42 GP; 18:39 TOI per game
5-on-5 On-Ice Performance: 47.9% Corsi-For, 49.3% Expected Goals For, 0.92 Points per 60

In short: Simmonds has continued to perform on the power play, but his play this season on the whole has been a bit one-dimensional.

How so? Throughout his Flyers career, Simmonds has been extremely reliable in one specific way: scoring on the power play. And so far, this season has been no exception. Through the first six years of his time in Philadelphia, Simmonds averaged 13.8 power play goals per 82 games. As of this moment, he’s on pace for ... 13.7 power play goals this season. The Train remains on schedule.

Unfortunately, the rest of Simmonds’ game has fallen a bit behind, and in a season where the Flyers’ depth forwards have largely let them down at 5-on-5, his continued power play production has probably shielded him from some criticism for his work at even strength. Simmonds went 14 games without a goal earlier this season, much to the chagrin of fans at the time. He only had four goals at even-strength, while his remaining three have come with an empty net. His 5-on-5 rate numbers this year are more reflective of those of a fourth-line forward than they are of a 55-point, All-Star forward.

And for the second straight season, his on-ice numbers at 5-on-5 aren’t where you’d hope they’d be. Simmonds is underwater in shot rates/possession, and while he’s been a bit better by Expected Goals he’s been below 50 percent as well as a negative relative to the team in those as well. The Flyers have been outplayed with Simmonds on the ice this season, and it’s tough to say with confidence that his power play scoring makes up for that.

Yeah, but: He’s spent a lot of the year playing through some kind of injury. Hextall basically said so himself back in November. Also, he’s spent most of the season with either Filppula or Patrick at his center, and we know how much those two have struggled. Tough to really hold that against Wayne. He was good while with Giroux and Couturier for much of December.

Still, though ... I acknowledge that Wayne is one of the toughest people probably on the face of the Earth, and playing through injury to help the team is admirable in its own way. But the Flyers have enough wing talent waiting in Lehigh Valley that if Simmonds’ play was significantly affected by injury, he shouldn’t have been on the ice. We can only judge what we’re seeing out there, and Simmer hasn’t quite been where we know he can be physically for much of the season.

I’m a bit more sympathetic to the argument about his linemates, but absent a big step forward by Patrick (and it’s worth noting, the two have worked well together since the Christmas break), that doesn’t seem like it’s going to change. Only one guy gets to play next to Giroux and Couturier. Simmonds is probably going to have to make it work the rest of the way.

Grade: C+. Frankly, Simmonds is having himself the season that got Brayden Schenn traded last year. From a “you have one job” perspective, Simmonds is doing his main job — he’s still a crucial part of a very good power play unit and is right around his usual power play goal-scoring pace, and the Flyers would be in trouble without that. But hockey players typically don’t have just one job, and Simmonds is currently coming up short on a lot of his secondary ones. Given how the Flyers did handle Schenn’s season last year, you have to wonder what they’ve thought of Simmer’s job so far this year.

Poll

How would you grade Wayne Simmonds’ play in the first half of the 2017-18 season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A+
    (9 votes)
  • 1%
    A
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    A-
    (21 votes)
  • 6%
    B+
    (70 votes)
  • 20%
    B
    (215 votes)
  • 31%
    B-
    (321 votes)
  • 11%
    C+
    (118 votes)
  • 16%
    C
    (175 votes)
  • 6%
    C-
    (65 votes)
  • 1%
    D+
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    D-
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (5 votes)
1033 votes total Vote Now

Previously in Flyers 2017-18 Midterm Report Cards: