The Flyers don’t have to trade Claude Giroux

Or, more accurately, Claude Giroux doesn’t have to want to be traded.

There’s a sentiment that I’ve seen tossed around in Flyers fandom recently in the midst of the presumed Claude Giroux farewell tour over the last few weeks—that he should want to leave Philadelphia.

It’s one thing when it’s self-deprecatingly focusing on the word “want,” as in: “We suck, of course he doesn’t want to play here. Who would?!” But I think I’ve also seen some focus on the word “should,” and I believe that focus is misplaced. “He should want to leave.”

It’s more ammunition to fire at Giroux in the same vein as questioning his leadership and his drive. What you’re really saying when you say that Claude Giroux should want to leave the Philadelphia Flyers is that if he doesn’t it’s proof he isn’t tough enough; he doesn’t have the will to win a Stanley Cup. If he stays in Philadelphia, it’s because he doesn’t really care all that much about winning.

One (or two) of the most touching retirements of the last decade for me was the Sedin twins. Daniel and Henrik, Swedes who were drafted by the Vancouver Canucks and played there for 17 years, wrote an open letter to their fans during their final NHL season. There was so much about the letter that I found admirable, but the fact that they weren’t going to chase a ring and the sentiment behind that stuck with me:

“We won’t play anywhere else. If we are going to win a Stanley Cup, if we are going to achieve our dream, we’d only want it to be in Vancouver. If we did it anywhere else, I don’t think it would feel the same.”

The Sedins did not compromise their dream, nor did they betray their personal lives in search of that compromise. Daniel’s wife, Marinette, moved with him when he was drafted, went to college at the University of British Columbia, and eventually began working as a literacy teacher, helping immigrants learn the language and assimilate to Canadian culture. Together, they have three children who were born in Vancouver. Johanna Sedin, too, moved from Sweden with Henrik; they have since married and have two children together. Both families still reside in the city.

Likewise, Claude Giroux has made himself a home in the Philadelphia area. He got married in Monmouth County, NJ and had cheesesteaks at the reception. His two sons were born here. Maybe in my 20s I would have told you that the noble thing is to win at all costs; but now, as a 30-going-on-31-year-old with a wife and a child on the way, I’d be a lot more hesitant.

In the NHL—and other professional sports—winning is everything. To be a winner is seen as being righteous, moral, upstanding. We so intrinsically believe in higher powers that we watch a competition and accept the outcome as how it is supposed to be. The game don’t lie. They deserved it.

But logically, we know this isn’t true. Just look at the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks, the 2017 Houston Astros, two-time Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis, the 2018 Kentucky Derby, three-time World Series winner Curt Schilling, the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, the Russians at the Olympics, and on and on and on. In the moment, we imagine someone lifting a trophy as someone who’s overcome, someone who deserves it, someone who has done something right rather than what they are: someone who has defeated an opponent in a competition.

And it’s that belief that leads us to believe that winning is the single best thing that anyone can do, and, therefore, the most important. If your top priority as a professional athlete isn’t winning the big one, you are a failure as a professional athlete, we’ve told them. But the Sedins came right out and said that, even though winning was very high on their list of priorities, it wasn’t number one. Their top priority was the cultivation of the community around them and the dedication to the place that dedicated itself to them. They didn’t want to be mercenaries, because they saw themselves as Canucks, not as professional hockey players. There’s nothing a fan could want more than that mindset. It means that they’re one of us—their identity is tied to a specific team wearing a specific color in a specific geographic location, not just whoever is paying the checks. And it’s the ultimate compliment; it’s saying that they love the place you or your ancestors have decided to call home as much as you do, enough to call it home themselves. The place where you live and the way the people are there, in part, define you. The Sedins looked Vancouver in the eye at age 37 and told it that they define themselves the very same way.

Because Philadelphians are national punching bags, underdogs, little brothers, we feel a strong kinship with each other. It’s the same thing in New Jersey amongst New Jerseyans. We take care of our own because nobody else is going to. There’s a reason Bruce Springsteen is a Jersey icon in a way that Frank Sinatra—the guy born in Hoboken who started crooning about New York, New York the first chance he got—isn’t. The single best thing you can be to a Philadelphian or a New Jerseyan is one of us—the second best is to be proud of it. If Claude Giroux prioritizes winning a Stanley Cup as a Philadelphia Flyer higher than he prioritizes winning a Stanley Cup, then he’s one of us. And if Claude Giroux’s top priority is making a stable life for his family and being there with them, then that’s what he should do.

The obvious caveat here is that Giroux can do whatever he wants. There’s nothing wrong with chasing a Cup. If he wants to leave, then we shouldn’t judge that choice (and we won’t be surprised either). Because of his strict no-movement clause, it’s entirely up to him. Would it be in the best interest of the franchise to receive some valuable assets for the departure of one of their greatest players at this, one of their lowest points in the last 50 years? Yes, of course. Should Flyers fans want to see Giroux traded? That’s up to them. Do I want to see him traded? I haven’t decided yet, get off my back. Will I be surprised if he does get traded? No.