There are certain sports teams, both professional and amateur, who are near-universally hated outside of their own fanbases. Here is a long but non-exhaustive list of those teams: the Los Angeles Lakers, most of the New York teams especially the Yankees, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Duke men’s basketball, Manchester United, all four Boston teams, the Dallas Cowboys, most of the Chicago teams, the Montreal Canadiens, Chelsea F.C., Penn State football. I would also include all four Philadelphia sports teams on that list.
But what do almost all (sorry Toronto) of those most-hated teams have that the Philadelphia teams, including the Flyers, do not? Some level of success.
These teams are hated outside of their fan bases because, at least in part, it’s hard to root for the biggest, most successful teams; because their fans become more and more arrogant the better their team does; because they’ve got the most money, the most history, and the most success. We hate ‘em ‘cause we ain’t ‘em.
For Philadelphian sports teams, it’s more about the identities, the city, and the fans. Philly fans are the worst. Bad things happen in Philadelphia. I would like the team except for the fans. And on and on. You, like me, have probably heard them all. Nobody hates us because we’ve won so much.
In fact, the Flyers only have two Stanley Cups in their 50+ year existence. The 76ers have just three NBA Championships in their 76 year history. The Eagles just won their first Super Bowl what feels like yesterday, but I guess was a few years ago. That’s in the 56-year Super Bowl Era. They had won three NFL Championships in the 30 years prior to that. The Phillies are the worst of them all: one of the oldest still-operating franchises in sports history, the Phillies have lost more games than any other team ever in any sport (probably). They’re some 2,000+ games under .500. It took them 97 years before they won their first World Series. And that’s going all the way back to when there was like 10 teams in the league. They’ve only won two total in their 139 year existence.
It’d be one thing if it was the world vs. Philadelphia and we got to bask in our glories. But where are our glories? When we say that no one likes us and we don’t care, it’s not a way of pointing at the scoreboard.
Patrice Bergeron is exactly the type of player that I might have an affinity for if he were on either my team or some other inoffensive team like, say, the St. Louis Blues or the Arizona Coyotes or the Carolina Hurricanes. But I cannot and will not love a Bruin. I just can’t.
I think Claude Giroux kind of fits into that same type of box for a lot of people. A non-Flyers fan feeling deep affection for the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers?? Absolutely not. But Giroux hasn’t been able to bring much unequivocal team success to Philadelphia either. He does not enjoy the same devotion from Flyers fans that, say, Patrice Bergeron does from Bruins fans.
And that’s just in terms of his recognition and affection from hockey fans. There’s yet another way that I think being in Philadelphia has harmed his ultimate legacy. And it’s something that I’m sure has been hashed out on every single Flyers blog in existence, including this one. It’s the 2017-18 Hart Trophy.
In the following table, using some stats pulled from Evolving-Hockey, it seems very evident that Giroux had, at the very least, a good argument for a Hart nomination that season. He was 30 years old and coming off a second-consecutive down year, with just 58 points scored in 82 games. Instead of doing what most players do on the wrong side of 30, Giroux did this:
|Claude Giroux||26.9 (1st)||5.2 (1st)||38.9 (1st)||7.6 (1st)||546 (4th)|
|Taylor Hall||26.2 (2nd)||5.1 (2nd)||22.7 (6th)||4.4 (T-5th)||1264 (1st)|
|Connor McDavid||24.6 (3rd)||4.5 (4th)||26.6 (3rd)||5.2 (3rd)||270 (5th)|
|Nathan MacKinnon||19.8 (7th)||3.9 (7th)||22.8 (5th)||4.4 (T-5th)||1194 (2nd)|
|Anze Kopitar||15.1 (31st)||2.9 (32nd)||20.8 (10th)||4.1 (10th)||551 (3rd)|
This table includes Evolving-Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement, Wins Above Replacement, expected Goals Above Replacement, and expected Wins Above Replacement—plus each player’s Hart votes. Both GAR and WAR attempt to assign a total value to each player, which represents how much that player contributed to their team in a single number, while the expected stats try to determine how a players’ play would be expected to impact their team with all things being equal.
You might notice that Claude Giroux is above all three nominees from that season; Taylor Hall, Anze Kopitar, and Nathan MacKinnon. You might also notice that Giroux’s production actually underperformed what he was expected to produce. According to Evolving-Hockey, Giroux provided almost 27 goals more than a replacement player would have—the most in the league—and that his play would actually have been expected to produce a full 12 more goals than that.
And yet, he finished fourth in voting.
Here’s some more, in case you don’t like those ones:
|Player||Goals||Assists||Points||Points per game||Hart Votes|
|Player||Goals||Assists||Points||Points per game||Hart Votes|
|Claude Giroux||34 (T-17th)||68 (T-1st)||102 (2nd)||1.24 (6th)||546 (4th)|
|Taylor Hall||39 (T-9th)||54 (19th)||93 (6th)||1.22 (7th)||1264 (1st)|
|Connor McDavid||41 (6th)||67 (2nd)||108 (1st)||1.32 (1st)||270 (5th)|
|Nathan MacKinnon||39 (T-9th)||58 (T-11th)||97 (5th)||1.31 (2nd)||1194 (2nd)|
|Anze Kopitar||35 (15th)||57 (13th)||92 (7th)||1.12 (8th)||551 (3rd)|
Giroux was first in assists, second in points and added 34 goals on top of that. You might be able to get away with saying that Giroux outscored Hall because he played in more games, which is true, except that Giroux also scored at a higher rate in the games he played, so Hall’s projected point total would still be below Giroux’s even if he played all 82. Giroux actually did play in all 82 games and his scoring was only topped by Connor McDavid. And yet, he finished fourth in voting.
Now, if you want to argue for Connor McDavid over either of them, I wouldn’t really quibble with that, except to say that the voters decided at some point that your team also needs to be good for you to be good, so they weren’t going to give it to McDavid anyway.
The narrative became that Taylor Hall was carrying a poor New Jersey Devils team to the playoffs. He was their best player by far and his play was the sole reason that they made the playoffs, therefore, he’s the most valuable. This narrative started a good margin of time before the season actually ended, and built to a crescendo in time for the votes to be cast in that direction.
But wait. The Devils that season finished 44-29-9 with 97 standings points. The Flyers were 42-26-14 with 98 standings points. They finished one point apart, with the Devils actually winning more games than the Flyers. Even worse, the Devils scored 248 goals and allowed 244. The Flyers, meanwhile, scored 251 goals and allowed 243. Statistically, these teams were basically the same. Which also means that if you take Giroux and his 102 points away from the Flyers, they’d probably have done worse than the Devils would have if you had taken Hall and his 93 points away from them. Plus, there’s some numbers for that! Here’s a table with stats culled from Natural Stat Trick’s CF% and xGF% plus each player’s CF% relative to their teammates and each player’s xGF% relative to their teammates:
|Player||CF%||CF% Rel||xGF%||xGF% Rel||Hart Votes|
|Player||CF%||CF% Rel||xGF%||xGF% Rel||Hart Votes|
|Claude Giroux||53.27||5.68||52.21||14.13||546 (4th)|
|Taylor Hall||51.73||5.01||52.18||10.76||1264 (1st)|
|Connor McDavid||53.24||3.74||53.66||12.76||270 (5th)|
|Nathan MacKinnon||50.9||4.87||50.09||6.86||1194 (2nd)|
|Anze Kopitar||53.08||4.55||49.52||6.45||551 (3rd)|
As you may have guessed (why else would I be bringing it up?), the difference between Claude Giroux’s play and his teammates play is wider than the difference between Hall’s (and McDavid’s and MacKinnon’s and Kopitar’s) play and his teammates play. There’s just no basis for sentiment that Taylor Hall was a better player on a worse team. If anything, he was a worse player on a similar team.
So here’s where the possibility of that anti-Flyers bias comes back into play. Why was he snubbed? Is there a chance that writers who grew up as fans are just as likely to hate on the Philadelphia Flyers as fans are? There’s certainly no statistical reason to choose Hall over Giroux. And it’s not really one of those “you had to live through it” votes either. Because I did live through it and I had no idea what was going on then either. Ultimately, he finished fourth in voting.
There are 120 players in NHL history who have more points than Claude Giroux has right now, 106 of whom are eligible for the Hall of Fame. Of those 106, there are 69 who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Stick with me here. Of those 37 non-Hall of Famers, 17 played for a Stanley Cup winning team at least once, and zero won a Hart Trophy.
This means that, theoretically, there are a few things that would make Giroux’s Hall of Fame case. Some longevity and hopefully 200ish more points, which would put him in the top 60 range, plus a Stanley Cup victory on his résumé, would make a strong case but not make him a lock. And here’s why that year’s Hart voting is such a travesty. With the résumé that he already has, plus maybe a few more points and an MVP, he’d be in no problem. And at this point, it seems quite unlikely that he’ll be in contention for that award again.
So, did Claude Giroux lose out on a major award because he plays for a team that everyone hates? Maybe.
And will that loss keep him from reaching the highest individual honor in his sport? Not sure.
Did he spend 15 years as the face of one of the NHL’s most despised franchises? Yes.
Did he also futilely spend the prime years of his career at the center of an incompetently built team with mostly below average goaltending and frequently below average defense under seven different head coaches in 15 seasons? Definitely.
So, did playing in Philadelphia actually do harm to Claude Giroux’s legacy?
My answer is: yes, and I don’t care at all.
Whether he sticks around for five more seasons and racks up some impressive career totals and wins a cup as a rental or with whoever he signs with next and eventually makes it to the hall, or whether he retires after this season and only lives on as a cult figure as the secretly best Flyer that someone born in 2022 doesn’t know about, it doesn’t matter to me.
I know who Claude Giroux is. I know he’s a late first round pick who, despite a lack of size and speed, has been one of the best players in the NHL during his career.
I know that if Giroux were in Nicklas Bäckström’s position, he’d be thought of as Ovechkin’s Malkin and he’d have more cups than the real Malkin.
I know that Claude Giroux has somehow only missed 21 games over the course of his entire career, which includes 5 in just the last 2 years due to COVID-19 protocols.
I know that Claude Giroux is the second best Flyer of all-time, behind Bobby Clarke and just ahead of Eric Lindros, Bill Barber, and Bernie Parent, and that if he retired right this second and never gets a cup or a call from Toronto, his number should still hang in the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center and then whatever it’s called when some other bank buys Wells Fargo and then whatever icebox our descendants resurrect after whatever volcano or nuclear bomb or asteroid nearly extincts us, from now until Philadelphia crumbles into the Atlantic Ocean.