If the Flyers are expecting to make a step forward, as both fans and the organization wish to do, then they will need exceptional performances from their key players. To this end, the performances of the existing core players that have been with the Flyers for some time now will be of utmost importance. In this article, the focus will be on the longest tenured of these key players: Claude Giroux. Perhaps no player has defied expectations and quelled fears more so than the Captain. After the 2016-17 season, where Giroux only managed 58 points, the collective fanbase was worried about Giroux’s decline, and many were calling for the Flyers to move Giroux before the inevitable happened. Even though he continued to drive play last year to a similar degree that he had in the past, his expected goals had dropped significantly to 48.6, down 11.6 points from two seasons prior.
However, following a switch to wing with Sean Couturier as 1C (credit to Dave Hakstol for doing this), Giroux produced a memorable campaign, breaking 100 points for the first time in his NHL career. He scored 34 goals, and provided 68 assists (33 of which were primary assists) for 102 points. 66 of those points were at even strength, which equals around 65% of his total points being at 5v5. His expected goals also shot back up to 63.1, which was a 14.5 point improvement. Giroux’s 2018-19 was similar by advanced metrics. He recorded a Corsi-For percentage of 53.0% and his expected goals dipped slightly at 60.7 (via hockey-reference). He managed to record 85 points, which puts him at a point-per-game pace again, though not as prolifically as the season prior. I don’t think Giroux can be blamed for that, however, as he still scored at a point-per-game pace despite the Flyers’ general struggles.
With all this being said, what can we expect from Giroux next season? Would we be wrong to expect another point-per-game season, or will some regression be the more probable outcome? To analyze this, I will be looking at comparable players and how their careers panned out, and how this relates to Evolving Wild’s natural aging curve. I will also look at how changes to the Flyers coaching staff and roster could impact Giroux’s performances, though this will be a more qualitative rather than quantitative analysis.
Projecting based on comparables
The aging curve model I am applying, done by Evolving Wild on hockey-graphs.com, estimates a -0.55 difference in Wins Above Replacement from age 32 to a player’s average “peak” season at age 23/24. In Claude Giroux’s case, before his monster 102 point season, his peak was at age 24, where he scored 93 points in 77 games. Of course, before breaking 100 points, Giroux played mostly at center, so making comparisons from previous seasons can be taken skeptically. With the lockout season ignored (because naturally players scored less points when less games were played), Giroux fits the bill in terms of natural aging decline up until 2017-18. His adjusted point share in his 93 point 2011-12 campaign was 10.6, and this number decreased gradually until it rested at 4.9 in 2016-17. This trend can be taken as legitimate given the way point share is calculated, as Giroux played a consistent number of games, always between 77 and 82. However, when switched to wing, Giroux’s point share rose back up to 11.8, which is the highest total he had posted at the NHL level, and last year, his point share dropped to 7.9. The drop can be explained by last season’s overall poor play, and to me at least, the sharp uptick in offensive point share is what intrigues me. Is this Claude Giroux’s new baseline? Probably not, but I am curious to see where similar forwards lie in terms of trends, and project into next year, and the next few years.
Through this stage in his career, Giroux’s point share totals see him comparable to three players: Jason Spezza, Alexei Yashin, and Peter Bondra. I averaged out their point totals and point shared from their seasons aged 31-35. Since Giroux could possibly play wing and center this upcoming season, I am taking all forward totals as acceptable. When averaged, comparable forwards to Giroux averaged 58 points and a 5.7 point share for the age seasons Giroux will hit in the near future. That seems…surprisingly low. I had expected slightly higher averages, but taking into account the aging curve, the data makes sense. Giroux’s point shares had dropped by nearly half until he was switched to wing, which corresponds with the projected WAR drop of just over half (0.55), and drops off even further with later years. This is also true if he 5.7 average point shares for comparable players. Their best seasons ranged from 10-12 offensive point shares, which would constitute a drop off of around half.
This would point to Giroux’s 100+ point season being an anomaly, though I also don’t believe that Giroux will only be a 58 point player. Taking only the three players’ age 32 seasons into account, the point total jumps to 70, which seems more likely for a player of Giroux’s calibre. Since these further seasons were averaged for comparable players, the 58 point prediction would be more accurate for being the case in a couple of years, but by that point, the Flyers will most likely have a younger first line C/Wing when Giroux is 35 years old.
Tailoring the results for next season specifically, when Giroux is a younger, more productive player, I think an accurate projection for next season would be between 65 and 80 points, with 80 being a best-case estimate. As mentioned previously, when averaging only the age 32 seasons of comparable players, the point total comes to 70 points, which falls in between my projection. Naturally, Giroux’s production could vary dependent on line-mate production, but I believe Giroux’s point share will be higher than his comparables, albeit if that is only slightly higher.
(A note that the player most similar in point share to Giroux was Adam Oates, but his point totals were above 100. Not only would this have overly increased the average, but I think Adam Oates is way better than Giroux so I decided not to include him.)
It goes without saying that the new system to be implemented by head coach Alain Vigneault will impact Giroux’s play. Of course, we don’t know what this system will be yet. If Vigneault is smart, he won’t use a similar system to the one he did in New York, simply due to the fact that the Flyers lack forwards with burning speed, and most certainly Giroux is not one of them. Regardless, Vigneault has a reputation of being an offensively minded coach. He set up a dynamic offence with the Sedin twins in Vancouver, played a counter attack based “offense through defense” system in New York, and will almost certainly rely heavily on Giroux with the Flyers. If he is smart, he will look to keep Giroux on the wing with Couturier, as their play together proved revolutionary.
Mike Yeo being brought in will most likely not impact Giroux, as he has been specifically brought in to coach defenders and the penalty kill. However, the addition of Michel Therrien could impact Giroux. It seems strange that Therrien will be coaching the power play and forwards, since he has a defensive reputation. However, since he will be working with Giroux, some level of impact can be expected. I view Therrien negatively, since he has been known to mistreat star players; Danny Briere’s accounts of Therrien certainly do not paint him positively. However, Therrien will be here as an assistant and not as a head coach, so it is within reasonable expectation to expect his role to limit the negatives about his player management, since that will primarily fall on Alain Vigneault. Obviously, Giroux will be playing in Vigneault’s system, so I am expecting Therrien’s impact on Giroux’s game to be mostly in the powerplay. During his last four full seasons in Montreal, Therrien’s power plays went 16.22%, 16.53%, 17.20% and 20.69% (via hockey-reference) in order from worst to best. In only one of those seasons was Montreal’s powerplay above league average, when they went 20.69% in 2012-13. Comparatively, the Flyers power play went 17.10% last season. If we expect Therrien’s input on the power play to more or less stay consistent with his work in the past, I would still expect Claude Giroux to put up similar power play numbers to when Kris Knoblauch was an assistant coach. Therrien’s power plays are mostly average, with his last above average power play total coming over 7 years ago. In terms of style, I don’t think any stylistic change to the power play would impact Giroux’s points either, since I am fairly confident he will be the main distributor regardless.
In regard to personnel moves, I don’t think that the first line will be moved around. The first line should be Giroux and a RW (preferably TK) centered by Couturier. I have a feeling that anybody new the Flyers bring in won’t effect that pairing of Giroux and Couturier, simply due to their chemistry together. Maybe that changes during the course of the season, but at least for the majority of the year I think they will be paired together if Vigneault is smart about it. I believe it’s far more likely that additional roster moves impact Giroux indirectly by taking pressure off of Giroux. With better roster depth, the more weight and pressure is lifted off of Giroux, which could result in higher quality shifts and an uptick in total points. I don’t believe this will impact his point share totals though, since I tend to lean more towards this helping the Flyers score more and not having an increased majority in total output coming from Giroux.
While I don’t bank on Giroux breaking 100 points, I do certainly expect him to produce at a solid first line level, just below a point-per-game at best, and middle 60’s (high second line, low first line) at worst. To me, the most likely outcome is a middle 70’s point total, which I don’t think would be disappointing on any level considering the averages of similar players as they reached Giroux’s age and beyond. In the end, the better the Flyers do, the more Giroux will trend towards the high end of my prediction, and that can only be a good thing.