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2017-18 Player Review: Claude Giroux, the comeback season to end all comeback seasons

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Claude, you are the man.

NHL: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Reports of Claude Giroux’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

After a shift to the left wing in training camp, Giroux exploded to finish second in the NHL scoring race behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid in 2017-18. Giroux finished with 102 points, posting career-highs in goals (34) and assists (68) all while leading the Flyers back into the playoffs in his age-30 season. Not bad for a player who entered the year with four consecutive seasons of declining point production.

While fans and pundits pondered whether or not Giroux’s best days were behind him (and perhaps rightfully so), the Flyers’ captain assembled a Hart Trophy-worthy campaign. Ultimately Giroux finished fourth in the Hart voting as league MVP, but his impact on the ice was felt night-in and night-out for the Flyers all season long.

With a constant lack of scoring from the Flyers’ bottom six, Giroux was counted on to provide offense nightly and delivered on cue. He did this despite a position change, and starting a career-high 54.5% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Giroux also helped Sean Couturier — who took his place as the first line pivot — to a career season of his own that also included career bests for goals, assists, and points. Perhaps the best job in hockey last year was to man the other wing of Giroux and Couturier, something Jake Voracek and Travis Konecny would no doubt attest to.

But it wasn’t just his stellar play at 5-on-5, which I’ll get to in a bit, it was his work in all phases of the game. It starts with his usual excellent work on the man-advantage, where Giroux finished sixth overall in power play points behind only three Penguins, Taylor Hall, and Blake Wheeler. It wasn’t all offense, either. Of the 58.6% of his faceoffs that he won overall, many of those came in his own zone (57% on defensive zone draws). A bunch also came while the Flyers were shorthanded, using Giroux as a quasi-faceoff specialist to create an early clear attempt for one of the NHL’s very worst penalty kills.

It’s crazy to look back at Giroux’s season and just marvel at just how it happened and where in the world it came from. Guys don’t have seasons like that at 30 and older, when their decline is either underway (as it appeared in this case) or well in progress. And even if they do bounce back, they certainly don’t nearly almost double their point production from the previous year while posting elite metrics against their younger and supposedly better peers as Giroux did.

In retrospect, Giroux’s 2017-18 season was certainly unexpected and perhaps even unthinkable. But it did happen, and there’s evidence to suggest that it’s not just a flash in the pan and that Giroux has plenty of magic left in him.


By The Numbers

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 34 68 102 20 193 17.6

If you had Claude Giroux finishing tied for 11th in the league in goals before the season started, give yourself a solid standing ovation. After scoring just 14 goals a season ago, Giroux exploded with 34 goals this past year, topping his previous career-high of 28 back in his age-24 and 26 seasons. While his 68 assists were also a career best, Giroux has always been an elite playmaker for others around him, making his sudden 30-goal outburst the biggest takeaway from the above.

Much of that was due to a career-high shooting percentage of 17.6%, above his career mark of around 11%. That’s a large jump, sure, but when you consider that Giroux scored on just 8.5% of his shots the previous three years combined, there’s probably some middle ground to find between those two percentages. If Giroux doesn’t shoot a career-worst 7% in 2016-17, he’s probably a 20-goal scorer for a sixth-time in seven seasons as an NHL regular.

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
53.12% 4.67% 6.65% 10.78 7.48 63.03% 103.62

The Flyers were, naturally, much better when Giroux and his mates were on the ice, but his elite offensive season wasn’t an accident by any stretch. The veteran continued to drive play with outstanding Corsi metrics (both CF% and Rel) and had goal-based results to back up the puck possession dominance. His goals-for percentage of 63.03% was sixth-best among NHL forwards playing at least 1,000 minutes.

Giroux also had a ridiculous +31 goal differential at 5v5, only the Golden Knights’ William Karlsson was more productive with a +37. That went a long way to help the Flyers improve at even strength, which has been a problem area in recent seasons.

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
2.73 1.84 2.99 2.66

Despite seeing declining point totals in his late 20’s, Claude Giroux maintained good possession metrics (never a Corsi Rel lower than +3 since 2012-13) and watched his goal-based metrics finally match up with that coincidence possession dominance. Combine that with a completely unsustainable shooting percentage and you’ve got a career year.

It wasn’t a bunch of luck though — and while some factors like shooting percentage and the presence of Couturier and the Flyers’ stacked power play certainly helped — Giroux posted an elite offensive season that rivaled the likes of other MVP names like Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid.

I’m not sure where the Flyers would have been without Giroux in 2017-18, but it wouldn’t have been pretty and there’s not much use in thinking about it too much because it’s just too depressing.


Three Burning Questions

1. Did this player live up to our expectations for this season?

Not only did Giroux live up to our expectations, he straight-up shattered them with a career year that almost nobody saw coming. In our preseason predictions, most of us were happy with a return to a point total in the 60’s for Giroux, with 70’s being outstanding. All Giroux did was drop 102 point on us and will the Flyers to the playoffs down the stretch when he was seemingly the only one doing anything offensively.

Looking back at Giroux’s stretch of three years prior to 2017-18, it wasn’t as much that he was falling off a cliff production-wise, but that he did run into some bad luck among other things (nagging injuries to name one). His career-low shooting percentages in those years threw off his goal-based results that didn’t match up with his usual strong possession numbers in those “down” seasons.

So while Giroux bounced back in a huge way this past season, signs from previous seasons that hinted that he was indeed far from a declining player. Neither the Flyers nor the fans could have asked much more out of Claude Giroux in 2017-18.

2. What do we expect from this player next season?

It’d be totally unfair to expect more of the same from Giroux in 2018-19, but given how he responded to the move to wing, it’d be safe to say that he could certainly produce about 75-80% of what he did this past season. That would put him on pace for the 65-75 point range we were hoping for entering this past season.

That number is certainly achievable for Giroux given he’ll keep seeing first line and first power play time with extra man aces Shayne Gostisbehere and Voracek. There’s also a new net-front toy in old pal James van Riemsdyk for Giroux to rekindle old chemistry with.

There has been some talk of the Flyers moving Giroux back to center, but after the year he had it’d be idiotic to move him back now. The move helped preserve Giroux during what is a grueling campaign for pivots, but the 30-year-old was far from sheltered on a line with Couturier, will always assume tough assignments no matter who he plays with.

Shooting percentage and PDO (103.62 vs. career 99.8) suggest there is some space for regression, but Giroux continues to be a possession dominant player with a high skill level playing with very talented teammates. If he stays healthy, expect a very strong season in 2018-19.

3. What would we like to see this player improve on?

When you’re talking about one of the best players in the world there isn’t much to pick at, especially after a 102-point, MVP-type season. But, while I’m at it, I’d really love to see Giroux improve his breakaway/shootout moves. I’m totally kidding, Claude Giroux is perfect. Here is his downright filthy OT winner at the hands of the Bruins.