June 24, 2006 was one of the most important days in recent Philadelphia Flyers history, and hardly anyone knew it at the time.
The Flyers owned the No. 22 overall pick of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and their odds of landing one of the draft’s top blue-chip prospects — Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, or Phil Kessel, to name a few — were slim. As fate would have it, all three of those players wound up being taken back-to-back-to-back in the top five picks, and the Flyers still had a long wait before it was their turn to make a selection.
But when their turn finally arrived, they made it count.
With the No. 22 overall pick, the Flyers selected Claude Giroux from the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — an undersized center from Hearst, Ontario.
It was Flyers legend Bobby Clarke who announced (and forgot) the team’s selection of Giroux, and 15 years later, Giroux has turned out to be one of the greatest players ever to wear a Flyers uniform.
Giroux has been the Flyers’ captain for a decade — longer than any other captain in franchise history. With 967 games, 282 goals and 879 points under his belt, it’s hard to think of a single player who’s had a larger impact on the Flyers since the days of Eric Lindros and his Legion of Doom.
But despite Giroux’s immensely successful tenure with the Flyers, he hardly has anything to show for it. Sure, winning the Bobby Clarke Trophy five times and being named to six NHL All-Star Games is impressive, but the ultimate prize — the Stanley Cup — continues to elude him.
Just about every logical Flyers fan would agree that seeing Giroux lift the Cup in an orange and black sweater would be the stuff of dreams. He’s been a member of the Flyers longer than anyone in franchise history not named Clarke, and one could argue that there’s no one in recent Philadelphia sports lore more deserving of winning a title.
Unfortunately, the chances of Giroux bringing the Cup to Philadelphia are getting more and more unrealistic by the day. And at almost 34 years old, time is quickly running out.
The Flyers are in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, which ties the longest losing streak in franchise history. Alain Vigneault, the first coach to guide the Flyers to a postseason series victory since 2012, was relieved of his duties this week, and Mike Yeo is now serving as the Flyers’ sixth head coach since the start of the 2013-14 season. Only two teams — the Arizona Coyotes (44) and New York Islanders (46) — have scored fewer goals than the Flyers (56) this season, and the Islanders still have a pair of games in hand.
Despite the Flyers’ struggles, though, Giroux is continuing to produce. He leads the team in points (21) and assists (12) and is tied for the team lead in goals with nine. He’s even leading the pack in several key “fancy stat” categories, including Corsi For percentage (55.30) and Expected Goals For percentage (52.18) at 5-on-5.
The Flyers have a lot of issues, but Giroux most certainly is not one of them.
However, as this disastrous season rolls on and the Flyers continue to underperform, general manager Chuck Fletcher and company need to thoroughly measure the practicality of Giroux winning a championship in Philadelphia. And unless they manage to concoct an infallible plan that would guarantee the Flyers a title within the next several years (highly unlikely), they owe it to Giroux to let him chase a Stanley Cup elsewhere.
There are a few paths the Flyers can take in order to let Giroux play on a competitive team with Cup aspirations. For one, they could simply let him walk in free agency. Giroux will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and, theoretically, he could play out the remainder of this season and be free to sign with any team of his choosing come the summertime. Giroux has made it known that he’d prefer to spend his entire career playing for the Flyers, but if the opportunity arose for him to win a championship with a different team, it’s hard to imagine he’d pass it up.
Of course, the prospect of losing Giroux for nothing would be far from ideal for the Flyers, and it would likely end up hurting the team in the long run.
Which brings us to the dreaded “T” word.
If Giroux and the Flyers’ brass agree that there is no realistic possibility of icing a truly competitive hockey team in the somewhat immediate future, it would do no good for either party not to discuss potential trade destinations.
Of course, Giroux’s contract includes a no-move clause that essentially allows him to choose his own fate. If he wishes to remain with the Flyers, this clause allows him to. But if he determines that his best odds of winning a Cup would require him being shipped elsewhere, he could waive his no-move clause and allow the Flyers to negotiate with interested teams at the trade deadline, which is set for 3 p.m. ET on March 21.
Regardless of the tactic, the Flyers’ main priority needs to shift. Barring an unforeseen turnaround, winning a Stanley Cup for themselves probably won’t be a legitimate possibility for some time.
Giroux winning a Cup, though? That can be arranged.
It would sting to watch Giroux lift the Cup wearing another team’s colors — much like it did when Mike Richards and Jeff Carter won a championship with the Los Angeles Kings. But after everything he’s done throughout his career, there’s no denying that Giroux deserves to have his name etched onto the side of that trophy — regardless of whether he does it as a member of the Flyers or not.