Welcome to the postseason, everybody! That’s right, the Flyers have clinched a playoff spot and are on their way to Pittsburgh for their first round matchup. But we’re not here to talk about that.
Instead, we’re going to look a little further into the future, and fast forward through all four rounds, and after the Stanley Cup’s been presented, all the way to the NHL Awards. We’re here to talk about the Hart trophy, and why Claude Giroux deserves it.
The discussion around Giroux this season has been an interesting one. In some ways, it feels like Philly discourse became something of an echo chamber, in which we all (or, most of us) talked very excitedly about how unreal of a season Giroux was having, and how he absolutely deserved to be an odds-on favorite for the Hart trophy. But, somehow, this idea didn’t quite break fully into the national discussion. Rather, Giroux, more often than not, found himself on the fringes of the Hart trophy finalist discussion, but rarely right in the thick of it. And this needs to change.
So, you guessed it, we’re here with our case for Giroux’s Hart trophy contention. Because, even as the Philly Twitter echo chamber has sung his praises, in some ways it feels like we haven’t even really scratched the surface of the greatness of the season he’s having.
So let’s take a moment to compare his case to that of a few of the other names which have been garnering the most buzz, of late. For our purposes, this will be Nathan MacKinnon, Taylor Hall, and Nikita Kucherov. Connor McDavid’s been picking up his own fair share of buzz, but as we can assume there’s a generous contingent of voters who won’t consider players whose teams missed the playoffs, we can drop McDavid from our list (sorry Connor).
Let’s start with some numbers.
When considering Hart trophy frontrunners, there remains a pocket of folks who first ask “who has the most points?” Indeed, scoring seems inextricably tied to value (score a goal and win the game, right?), so it seems a worthwhile place to start.
Raw Scoring Totals
So when we take a look at our four players’ scoring numbers, we see a pretty close grouping. No more than five goals separate them, but this category does find Giroux lagging behind a bit. But in total points is where we start to see a bit of separation. Here, we see a 12 point spread from our top points scorer (Giroux) to the fourth on this list (Hall). So, take the metric of your choice, and it can support a strong enough case for the player of your choice. These four players all fall in the top ten (in points) and top 20 (in goals) in the whole of the league. So where does that leave us? With a tight race in which all four deserve top considerations. So maybe we need to expand our parameters.
However great the importance, just raw scoring doesn’t tell the full picture of a player’s contribution to their team. For a more comprehensive look, it serves us well to dive deeper into the numbers, into some of the more advanced metrics.
On-Ice Advanced Metrics (5v5)
If your player of choice from that section above is Giroux, well, you’re in luck. Where he lagged a bit behind in some our of scoring metrics, he’s propelled himself above his three competitors in terms of Corsi and Expected Goals, suggesting that, on top of the results he’s reaped, he’s working well to drive positive outcomes for both himself and his teammates, while on the ice at 5-on-5.
But, you say, it’s possible these numbers may have been inflated by the positive play of Giroux’s teammates, his numbers are good because his team is good, this doesn’t prove it, I’m not convinced. No problem—we’ve got a fix.
CF% and xGF% Relative to Teammates (5v5)
/extremely smug voice, examining nails/ You were saying?
Maybe that was mean, we sort of take it back, but you see where we’re going with this, yeah? When you remove teammates’ influences (as best as possible), Giroux’s relative numbers take an even sharper uptick. The positive outcomes being driven hold, but the “good team, good numbers” narrative doesn’t. And Giroux’s case remains strong.
And, of course, you could say that it’s hard to separate the impact of long term linemates in these numbers, it would be hard to separate Couturier’s impact since he and Giroux have been paired together for the whole season. And you’d be right. But the same could be said regarding, for example, Hall and Hischier (who is already playing well at the NHL level) or Kucherov and Stamkos (who, we already know is very good), who have each played 76 games together. We can respect the critique, but can let it go for now, and understand that symbiosis seems to be working across the board, here.
But let’s move on past the numbers and get into some of the sentiment because, you know, media folks vote on this thing and you know how we love to narrativize. We can’t help it. Let’s go to the quick hits.
Claude Giroux finished the regular season second in the league in scoring with 102 points, behind just McDavid.
Claude Giroux scored more than 30 goals and 100 points for the first time in his career. Coming off a 58 point season. At 30 years old.
Claude Giroux had a huge game against the Bruins on a national broadcast, which, you know, means he actually exists now.
Claude Giroux scored a hat trick in the Flyers’ final regular season game. On national television. To clinch the team--the team that earlier this season lost ten games in a row--a playoff berth.
The storylines are all there, ripe for the taking. The validation is knocking on the door, ready to pour on in. But maybe the biggest piece of this is that this extrinsic validation isn’t wholly needed, in the first place.
When asked about Giroux’s season, and how it may have validated his place among the league’s elite, head coach Dave Hakstol explained, “well, for me, he’s never needed that validation, but if the exclamation point tonight that he put on his season in the most important game of our season, doesn’t say that to the outside world, I don’t know what would. He doesn’t need that kind of validation inside of our dressing room or among his teammates, but he’s done it all this year and he’s done it under pressure and that for me, that says a lot about him and who he is and what he’s all about.”
So what do we do with all this, the notes on an uptick in production, a resurgence, a settling in at the top of the league in both raw scoring and advanced metrics? We know these top names, folks, and Giroux’s right there with them. At the very least, it’s a case for consideration for a player who never needed the validation, in the first place, but deserves it all the same.
Are we homers, here? Absolutely. But we’re also right.