Musings: Giroux Bounceback Keys, Flyers Top 25 in 25: Gagne, Quick Hits
September 1, 2017, 8:57 AM ET [98 Comments]
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MELTZER'S MUSINGS: ANALYZING GIROUX BOUNCEBACK KEYS
As the 2017-18 season approaches, 29-year-old Flyers captain Claude Giroux sits 10th in franchise history with 575 career points. Within the next two years, however, he figures to rise into the top five and surpass the likes of Rod Brind'Amour (601 points), Mark Recchi (627), John LeClair (643) and oft-injured forwards Tim Kerr (650) and Eric Lindros (659 in just 486 games).
Bob Clarke's all-time franchise record 1,210 points is probably out of reach for Giroux but, by the time he is done, he should at the very least be in the top four. The late Rick MacLeish is currently fourth (697 points). Giroux is currently 274 points behind Brian Propp (849 points) for third and 308 points behind Bill Barber (883 points) for second.
If he were to do it within the next four seasons, Giroux would have to average 69 points per season for the next to surpass Propp and 77 points per season over the same span to tie Barber. Over a five-season span, it would take 55 points per season to pass Propp and 62 points per season to move past Barber.
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall made an excellent point in the second part of his discussion with Courier Post beat writer Dave Isaac in regard to the dip in Giroux's offensive numbers the last two seasons: there a lot of factors that go into a player's production stats beyond just the player himself. Teamwide depth and changes in the system the club plays are two significant factors in the numbers a player is able to produce.
By any measure, Giroux had a subpar season in 2016-17. The raw numbers (14 goals, 58 points) were just part of a bigger story of a team that struggled at five-on-five and had a tough time winning on the road (the club's home record, as usual, was fine). Giroux was unable to rise above teamwide issues and, in fact, was among the many culprits. He's a better player than that.
It is easy to forget now that Giroux, who had offseason hip/groin surgery last summer and then got banged up in a pre-tournament tuneup game at the World Cup of Hockey, actually got off to a torrid start when the NHL season started. He rattled off a 10-game point streak after being held without a point on opening night. Through 15 games, he already had 16 points (three goals, 13 assists).
To his credit, Giroux dressed in every game last season despite feeling considerably less than 100 percent for much of the season. Unfortunately, after the first 15 games, his production dropped off a cliff. Over the remaining 67 games, he had only 42 points (11 goals, 31 assists). Giroux went on a hot mini-run during the Flyers' 10-game winning streak but things were rough for him and for the team after Christmas until he finally found a groove again down the stretch. Unfortunately, by then, the Flyers playoff hopes went from bright to endangered to virtually extinguished.
What happened to the captain? Hextall's theory is that Giroux's shortened rehab/ offseason training window as a result of the surgery and World Cup obligations caught up with him.
"If you don't have a full summer, a lot of times it will show up later in the year because you just can't maintain [energy] over the course of the year. I believe that was a big chunk of what happened to Claude," Hextall said to Isaac.
It is easy for folks to say Giroux has to start getting back to the scoring areas again and finding separation from the defense. The lack of the latter was actually the number one red flag for much of last season that Giroux wasn't himself.
The problem isn't that Giroux was suddenly "afraid" to venture into traffic. The problem was that he couldn't find the time and space to go there and got forced to the perimeter. Hextall's assessment above jibes with why that happened. When a player is at less than his peak energy, the "get to the scoring area" mantra is easier said than done.
After the 2015-16 campaign, Giroux took heat for his numbers dropping to 22 goals and 67 points in 78 games and especially for a rough playoff series against Washington. The hip/groin tear in the latter part of the season was clearly a factor. Giroux took his share of maintenance days off from practices and even some "maintenance mornings" from day-of-game skates without missing games.
Not wanting to make excuses, especially during the playoffs, Giroux constantly brushed aside questions about his health this spring. However, it was clear that he was physically hampered. The Flyers player wearing number 28 in the Capitals series scarcely resembled the team's franchise player, to the point that speculations about a concussion, various upper body ailments (wrist? ribcage issue?) and/or lower body injuries were rampant during the playoff series with Washington.
For his part, Giroux repeatedly insisted that he was no more banged up than the average player by the latter part of a season. That's part of the conundrum of hockey: players are expected to play through injuries if at all possible and to not use it as an excuse if their performance is hampered in any way. On the other hand, if a player has issues of the types that Giroux and Jakub Voracek (who played through not-fully-healed foot fracture fracture in 2015016) dealt with two seasons ago, how much can they really help the team?
We have all seen players play at a high level despite needing surgery. For example, Ville Leino had off-season hip surgery after his career-making run during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Peter Forsberg's foot issues had become a major problem (eventually a career-ending one) by the time he almost singlehandedly carried the Flyers in their six-game loss to Buffalo in the first round of the 2006 playoffs.
Core muscle injuries are a real bear, though. It's very hard to play through those successfully, and it definitely played into Giroux's production drops in 2015-16 and last season.
There is also the factor of the Flyers' system.
In 2015-16, the Flyers adopted an altered system under then-new head coach Dave Hakstol. Two seasons ago, Giroux carried some of the heaviest defensive responsibilities of his career including penalty killing duties. He had one of his best seasons as a team leader, even though it cost him in the offensive department.
Last season, the Flyers tried to take steps to free up Giroux a little more offensively. Defensive zone faceoffs and penalty killing duties were key reasons for the team's ill-fated signing of veteran unrestricted free agent Boyd Gordon last offseason. Gordon didn't last long on the Flyers but the Flyers still attempted to reduce the defensive burden on Giroux.
For example, in 2015-16, Giroux averaged 1:28 of penalty killing time per game. This past season, he was rarely sent out except at the end of PKs and averaged just 15 seconds per game of penalty killing time. Nevertheless, his offensive numbers took a steep drop especially outside of power play production. No two ways about it: the decline in production despite more favorable usage was a big disappointment and needs to improve next season.
Hakstol's system itself, including coverage responsibilities coming through the neutral zone and breakout patterms, is not going to change. Thereafter, the team as a whole is going to have to execute it more consistently to generate more clean offensive zone entries. Giroux clearly has a role in that, but needs help around him.
Hextall also referenced forward depth. As next season rolls around, the Flyers will need several players to step up not only to reduce opponents' ability to focus almost exclusively on shutting down Giroux's line but also to account for the departure of Brayden Schenn.
Voracek will need to have his best season since 2014-15. Wayne Simmonds will need another year at roughly a 30-goal pace. In his second pro year, Travis Konency will have to take the next steps in his evolution toward becoming an impact player. Other youngsters such rookie hopefuls Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom will need to have some impact as well. Sean Couturier will have to turn his annual 10-to-15-game stretches of averaging about a point per game into more consistent full-season production without the 25-to-30 game offensive valleys.
The Flyers will also need more all-around support from the blueline in virtually every department: more consistently accurate breakout passing, own zone play and defense through the neutral zone, and more sustained offensive support to keep opposing defenders honest. This would help Giroux and the other forwards immensely.
The likely continued growth of Ivan Provorov as an NHL player will help. So would a bounceback season (both offensively and especially defensively) from Shayne Gostisbehere. Meanwhile, the Flyers may have two rookies in the starting six. Regardless of who claims jobs (i.e., some combination of Samuel Morin, Robert Hägg, Travis Sanheim or Philippe Myers), the youngsters will have to adapt fast to the NHL.
Will all of these positive trends happen in the same year? Probably not. Some should, however. The more that do, the more favorable the conditions for Giroux to have a bounceback season offensively. The rest will be up the captain himself.
FLYERS TOP 25 IN THE LAST 25 YEARS: SIMON GAGNE
A center in junior hockey and early in his NHL career with the Flyers, Simon Gagne soon switched to left wing at the suggestion of head coach Roger Neilson. The speedy and highly skilled forward quickly emerged as an NHL impact player, both with and without the puck.
As a Flyer, Gagne scored 264 regular season goals and 540 regular season points to rank 11th in scoring in franchise history. In the postseason, he scored 32 goals and 47 points.
During Gagne's Flyers career, he compiled an extensive list of accomplishments: a member of NHL All-Rookie team in 1999-2000, two-time winner of the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP (2005-06 and 2006-07), Pelle Lindbergh Award winner as the team's most improved player of the 2000-01 season, two-time NHL All-Star Game selection (2000-01, 2006-07), two-time 40-goal scorer (2005-06 and 2006-07) on a line with Peter Forsberg and Mike Knuble, Olympic participant for Team Canada in 2002 (gold medal) and 2006, three-time Toyota Cup winner as the Flyers player with the most three-star selections in the 2001-02, 2005-06 and 2006-07, and an important member of the 2009-10 team that reached the Stanley Cup Final as well as the 1999-2000 and 2003-04 squads that fell one win short of the Finals.
In the playoffs, Gagne scored three of the biggest goals in the post-2000 history of the Flyers' franchise. In 2004, Gagne tallied the overtime goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final to force a seventh and deciding game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2010, Gagne played through injury to score the overtime goal in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals that started the Flyers historic comeback from a three-games-to-zero deficit against the Boston Bruins. In Game 7, the Flyers trailed 3-0 in the first period only to storm back and win, 4-3. Gagne capped it with the series-winning goal scored with 7:08 remaining in the third period.
Born on a Leap Day, February 29, 1980, in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Simon was the son of the late Pierre Gagne, a former Quebec Jr. Aces forward who was a tryout player at the first two training camps in Flyers history, the younger Gagne went on to become one of Philadelphia's top players of the first decade of the 2000s after the Flyers drafted him from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Quebec Remparts with the 22nd overall pick of the 1998 NHL Draft.
After Gagne's father moved on from hockey, he became a police officer in Quebec City. However, Pierre Gagne was his son's first and most trusted hockey coach and most ardent supporter.
Pierre Gagne was particularly close with former Junior Aces teammate Simon Nolet, who went on to play for the Flyers' first Stanley Cup winning team and then, many years later, became a highly successful scout with the Quebec Nordiques and Flyers.
Simon Gagne grew up as a fan of the Nordiques and was a junior player for the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts, Led to believe the Montreal Canadiens would select him in the first round of the 1998 NHL Draft, Gagne was excited by the thought and then crestfallen when the Habs bypassed him and the Colorado Avalanche -- who had three picks in the first round -- opted for three other players.
Finally, the Flyers selected Gagne 22nd overall. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. He loved playing for the team and also fell in love with the Flyers fanbase and the city of Philadelphia.
"They are going to push you and help you and they’re very loyal. This is the best place to play hockey. Yeah I won a cup in LA and it will be something that I remember for the rest of my life, but I am always going to be a Flyer," Gagne said on Nov. 17, 2015.
Gagne is 10th on the Flyers all-time regular season games played list (702) and 13th on the playoff games played list (80). He had bad luck with injuries for much of his Flyers career, especially with concussions, groin and shoulder issues. Some of his best playoff performances, in fact, came in games where he was questionable to play due to significant injuries.
Gagne grew so fond of playing for the Flyers that he was heartbroken both times he left the organization, In the summer of 2010, he reluctantly waived a no-trade clause and enabled the organization to make a trade with Tampa Bay that was entirely driven by salary cap necessity.
After injury-riddled stints with the Lightning and Kings (with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2012), Gagne returned to the Flyers during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Although no longer the same caliber of player he was earlier in his career, Gagne played reasonably well in his second stint.
Gagne sat out the entire 2013-14 season, although there was some interest from NHL teams. He later said that it took him some time to rediscover the drive it takes for a player -- especially for one approaching his mid-30s with a lengthy injury history -- to prepare himself both mentally and physically to play.
Believing he had rekindled the fire, Gagne accepted a tryout invitation from the Boston Bruins for their 2014-15 training camp. Accepting a fourth-line role, Gagne dressed in 23 games for the Bruins (three goals, one assist). However, his heart grew heavy for personal reasons.
The prognosis for liver cancer-stricken Pierre Gagne, 68, became grim. Simon, who enjoyed a very close relationship with his dad, could no longer focus on hockey. All he wanted at this point was to be by his father's side until the end. Gagne took a leave of absence from the team. He elected not to return after Pierre passed away on Christmas Day.
On a much happier note, Gagne also realized during the 2013-14 seasons and again after leaving the Bruins that his greatest joy in life comes from his family and that having more time available to ben with his wife and children meant more to him at this point in his life than being an NHL player. He retired on September 15, 2015.
On November 17, 2015, the Flyers honored Simon Gagne's career with a special tribute night.
“A lot of emotion," Gagne said in describing his special night. "That’s the first thing that comes to my mind, having the family here, my friends, my kids, the people that I know. My dad passed away, I wish he was here tonight but like I said a lot of emotion and really a lot of class from the Flyers to do something like this.”
QUICK HITS: SEPT. 1, 2017
1) SHL Preseason: Flyers forward prospect David Kase scored an overtime power play goal to lift Mora IK to a 2-1 overtime win on Thursday.
2) Champions Hockey League: Flyers defense prospect Linus Högberg skated as the sixth defenseman for the Växjö Lakers in a 5-3 win over Swiss team Davos on Thursday. Högberg will celebrate his 19th birthday on Monday.
3) VHL: Hulking (6-foot-7) longshot goaltending prospect Ivan Fedotov got a start for his VHL (Russian minor league) team Toros Neftekamsk on Wednesday. The goalie, who turns 21 in late November, appeared in just seven games last season for Toros. His KHL rights are owned by the Salavat Yulaev Ufa club.
4) Today in Flyers History: On Sept 1, 1988, the Flyers traded backup goaltender Wendell Young to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a 1990 third-round pick. Philly later used the selection on defenseman Chris Therien, who went to become the longest-tenured defenseman (753 regular season games) in franchise history.
5) Sept. 1 Flyers Alumni birthday: forward Harry Zolnierczyk was born Sept. 1, 1987.
6) Later today on the Flyers' official website, my offseason series of prospect articles continues with an in-depth look at Oskar Lindblom and his outlook on challenging for an NHL roster spot in training camp.