Did we expect to discuss Claude Giroux’s future throughout the 2021-22 season? Of course. He entered the campaign as a pending UFA, about to finish an eight-year pact carrying an $8.275-million AAV. He was the longest-tenured captain in Philadelphia Flyers history but was 33 when the season started and clearly past his prime. Speculation on whether the Flyers would commit a chunky cap hit to him again was natural. So was speculation on whether he’d sign with the Ottawa Senators in summer 2022 given he calls Ottawa home.
But did any of us expect to be talking about a Claude Giroux mid-season trade? A rental sell-off for a terrible, soon-to-be retooling team? Most prognosticators predicted a bounce-back year for the Flyers, especially after they acquired defenseman Ryan Ellis and right winger Cam Atkinson in the off-season. The Flyers still had a franchise-anchoring blueliner in Ivan Provorov, an elite two-way center in Sean Couturier and a budding star scorer in Joel Farabee.
But here we are in late January and…the Flyers have lost 13 consecutive games, a franchise record. If they lose Saturday, they’ll go the entire month without winning a game. Earlier this week, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said he’d give GM Chuck Fletcher a “blank check” to turn the franchise around. Will that require trading Giroux, 34? Fletcher said this week the decision will be Giroux’s. He has a full no-movement clause on his contract. But he’s yet to win a Stanley Cup and hasn’t played in a final since 2009-10, so it’s entirely possible he’ll be up for a new adventure. Contending teams are counting on it.
Which teams are the best potential fits for a Giroux acquisition? Consider these five.
The Flames’ .590 points percentage is their highest since they won the Pacific Division in 2018-19. Buying into Darryl Sutter Hockey, they sit top three in the NHL in shot attempts, shots on goal and scoring chances per 60 at 5-on-5. That’s the exact footprint Sutter’s championship L.A. Kings teams used to leave.
Sutter teams control the possession game and play superior defense but often have trouble finishing. Case in point: the Flames sit 21st in 5-on-5 shooting percentage and a good-but-not-great 11th in power-play efficiency. They’ve also cooled off in the standings of late, losing six of their past 10 games. Left winger Johnny Gaudreau’s resurgent season tells us a finesse player can in fact thrive in Sutter’s system, and Calgary needs another one to improve its team-wide scoring touch and get its shooters higher-percentage looks.
Giroux, then, would fit that plan. There’s a nice breakdown of his game in this article by Joshua Serafini, indicating Giroux remains a solidly above-average play driver despite his age and despite playing on a struggling, banged-up Flyers squad. Not only could Giroux slot into any forward position on the Flames, but he’d also add some leadership to a team that lost its longtime captain Mark Giordano to the Seattle expansion draft last year.
The only thing holding Calgary back in trade talks might be its ability to build an appealing package for Giroux. The Flames don’t have a particularly deep farm crop at the moment. Trading a first-rounder and/or a good prospect such as Jakob Pelletier or Connor Zary wouldn’t be dealing from a surplus.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman tabbed Colorado as a destination to watch for Giroux this week, and it makes plenty of sense. From Giroux’s perspective, there’s no better landing spot if he intends to chase a Stanley Cup. The Avs could deploy him as a second-line left winger and drop defensive wizard Valeri Nichushkin back to more of a checking line, or they could use Giroux as a third-line center and have him drive his own line.
General manager Joe Sakic has graduated to the “mortgage some futures in the name of a Cup chase” phase. He sacrificed a 2022 first-rounder and defenseman Conor Timmins to get goaltender Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes last summer. Colorado’s prospect pool remains deep enough to tempt Philadelphia. The Avs used a first-round pick in nine straight drafts before trading the 2022 pick, and that means they’ve assembled some tradable prospect capital, whether it’s Martin Kaut, Justin Barron or an established NHLer such as Tyson Jost.
Of the teams on this list, the Wild probably have the least “chase a Cup” appeal from Giroux’s perspective. But they’re an excellent team and arguably the best fit from a hockey perspective. Ryan Hartman has been a revelation as their No. 1 center this season, and Joel Eriksson Ek plays a crucial two-way role, but they can do better than Frederick Gaudreau as a middle-six center.
Given Giroux would be a rental, the Flyers couldn’t ask for a mega-prospect such as Matt Boldy or Marco Rossi in return. That’s a non-starter. But the Wild could afford to send a pick and a second-tier prospect in the vein of Calen Addison to Philly.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
When you’re chasing a three-peat as Stanley Cup champions, there’s no turning back. The Lightning no longer own 2022 draft picks in rounds 2-4, so why not punt the first-rounder that will fall in the late 20s or low 30s anyway?
Giroux would be a nice tonic for a Lightning team that lost its entire third line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow last off-season. Giroux’s versatility, which includes elite faceoff ability, would make him a handy weapon to move all around the top nine. The Lightning have a history of succeeding with forwards who can play multiple positions.
What’s that you say? The Lightning can’t make Giroux fit under the cap? Aw, that’s adorable. At this point I’m convinced the Lightning would find a way to fit Steph Curry under the cap.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
The Leafs continue to get great mileage from their $40-million-plus forward quartet of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. They have the league’s seventh-ranked offense and top-ranked power play. But the core gets more top-heavy every season, and Toronto’s depth deficiency consistently becomes problematic in the post-season.
With Zach Hyman gone to Edmonton, Toronto’s left wing could use a boost. Ilya Mikheyev is off to a hot start but hasn’t been a finisher thus far in his career, so regression looms. Giroux as the second-line left winger would raise the top six’s overall talent level, though he’d make the Leafs far more dangerous by centering the third line. Stanley Cup champions these days consistently roll three lines that can operate as scoring units. Giroux might be a transformative piece for Toronto’s championship dream.
The Leafs and GM Kyle Dubas could be reticent to sacrifice prospect-and-pick capital after they depleted it to acquire Jake Muzzin in 2019 and Nick Foligno in 2021, but this season is likely the Last Dance for Dubas if Toronto doesn’t win one or more playoff rounds. Toronto has the right tier of B-level prospects to land a Giroux type. If not from the Nick Robertson/Rodion Amirov echelon, perhaps someone like Matthew Knies or Nick Abruzzese.