Will the career-best season of Claude Giroux this year garner him serious consideration for the NHL’s Most Valuable Player award?
Claude Giroux arrived in Philadelphia with great expectations and from the moment he staked his claim to a regular spot in the lineup midway through the 2008-09 season to that unforgettable opening shift against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in April of 2012, his output as well as his esteem within the Philadelphia Flyers organization and the NHL rose steadily. It was in the following offseason that the man they called ‘G’ was named Captain by coach Peter Laviolette, who had also proclaimed Giroux “the best player in the world” after his playoff heroics against the Pens.
Since that time, as the best player on an often mediocre or underperforming team, Giroux has worn the target, most nights facing the opponent’s top lines and lead defense pairings. That, and a string of injuries that he grittily played through, led to a decline in production that had some calling for a new captain and others wondering what No. 28 might fetch in a trade. After last season’s 14 goals and 58 points, head coach Dave Hakstol decided that his now 29-year-old center might benefit from a change to the wing. The early results were promising. On December 2, after the team’s 10th consecutive loss, Giroux had scored 11 goals and assisted on 17 others for 28 points and a plus-8 rating. His team may not have been hitting on all cylinders (8-11-7). But, the captain was averaging about a point a game.
As the Flyers clawed their way back into playoff contention, even making a brief appearance atop the Metropolitan Division, it was the top line of Giroux, Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny leading the way. The breakout seasons that ‘Coots’ and ‘TK’ experienced as a result of playing with ‘G’ allowed Hakstol to distribute the production of Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds to the second and third lines, creating consistency throughout the lineup and matchup nightmares for the opposition.
As the march to the Stanley Cup Playoffs reached its fever pitch, so did talk of Giroux as a candidate for the Hart Memorial Trophy. When all was said and done, he would establish personal bests in goals and assists while posting his first 100-point season and the first by a Flyer since Eric Lindros in 1995-96. Unlike other seasons in his career, when the lion’s share of his goals were scored on the power play (14 of 25 in 2014-15 for example), only 9 of his 34 goals were with the man advantage. His 25 even strength goals were a key factor in the +24 rating he compiled, also a career high.
When the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association cast their votes this week, Giroux should most certainly be in their collective thought process. Edmonton Oilers phenom Connor McDavid is last year’s MVP and will win the Art Ross Trophy for amassing the league’s top point total. But, his team’s failure to reach the playoffs may cost him. Colorado’s Nathan McKinnon could suffer a similar fate as part of an Avalanche team that has had one skate in the playoffs and one skate out for most of the season’s second half. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin could see fewer votes because of the talent that surrounds them on their respective teams. William Karlsson’s +49 for the surprising Vegas Golden Knights could earn him some votes. But, his teammate Jonathan Marchessault was a +37. The trophy, after all, is awarded to the “player judged most valuable to his team”. Defensemen and goaltenders should have good battles for the Norris and Vezina. But, neither position boasts a valid MVP candidate this time around.
All of this brings us to Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils. Hall was the first overall pick in 2010 and never quite delivered on his promise with an eternally rebuilding Edmonton team. But, he has served as an effective accelerant for a Devils team that was supposed to be rebuilding this year and, instead, finds themselves in the playoffs. Hall’s 93 points are truly astounding when you consider that no other Devil surpassed 55 for the year.
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Some might say that it would be hard to handicap this race without taking into account the PHWA’s tendency to overlook the Flyers. That may sound like sour grapes. But, since Lindros won the Hart in 1995, only 5 Flyers (Lindros – Hart 1996, Roman Cechmanek – Vezina 2001, Mike Richards – Selke 2009, Giroux – Hart 2014, Shayne Gostisbehere – Calder 2016) have even been in the top 3 for one of the league’s individual honors and none have won.
If the 20,000+ voices chanting “MVP! MVP!! MVP!!!” at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon get their way, Giroux will get the recognition he has earned this season. But, if the voting holds to form, they should probably prepare themselves for some disappointment.