As the Flyers continue to flounder, the story of the season shifts to the imminent departure of Claude Giroux. Giroux, the team’s captain and second all-time leading scorer, is out of contract and will almost certainly be traded to a contending team in need of depth in the top six forward spots and on the powerplay. As his time in orange and black winds down, Giroux will be the subject of countless career retrospectives as one of the best ever Philadelphia Flyers. Where on that list does he land, though?
Claude Giroux became the Flyers’ second-leading scorer earlier this season and will further secure that spot until his departure, with 894 points and counting. Giroux never won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s best player but could have reasonably laid claim to that title for the 2011-2012 and 2017-2018 seasons. His postseason pedigree is built on two notable playoff runs; Giroux notched 21 points in 23 games as a second-year player during the Flyers’ eventual 2010 Stanley Cup defeat to the Blackhawks, and an impressive 17 points in 10 games over two series in 2012. Giroux’s player profile would describe him as an elite playmaker, a dominant faceoff man, and a dangerous one-time shot from the left slot.
Bob Clarke is a three-time MVP, two-time champion, and generally the most significant person in the history of the Flyers. Eric Lindros was, at his peak, in the Mario Lemieux/Mike Bossy tier of unplayable forwards. It is folly, therefore, to match either of those players against Giroux, as it would only end in one way. Additionally, Giroux should not be compared to any defenseman as that sort of argument would quickly become subjective. That makes Giroux’s direct competition, chronologically, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, Reggie Leach, Tim Kerr, Brian Propp, and John Leclair.
Bill Barber is one of just five Philadelphia Flyers to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, which quickly bolsters his case against any player. His vaunted status might not do him any favors in the long run against Giroux, though, who with a Stanley Cup and three more healthy seasons will almost certainly join him in the Hall. What Barber has that Giroux lacks is a pair of Stanley Cups won in his playing prime; any trophies for Giroux will come as a member of the supporting cast. Otherwise, the two are quite similar. Barber retired young with 883 points, a number Giroux recently eclipsed, and had one truly dominant season in 1975-1976 (50G 62A 112P) to Giroux’s two. Barber’s playoff success gives him the edge in the end, as he played in a ridiculous 129 postseason games and has a major hand in the only two Stanley Cup banners hanging in the Wells Fargo Center. Winner: Barber
Rick MacLeish is a frustrating player to analyze. In terms of natural giftedness, “Hawk” could stand up to the game’s greats. Unfortunately, hard living took its toll on his consistency and longevity. Still, what he did achieve during his career is enough to warrant consideration as an all-time great in Philadelphia. MacLeish’s numbers are on par with Giroux’s in terms of point production, though with more goals, a higher floor, and a lower ceiling. Giroux’s continued success into his 30s gives him a statistical edge, though. On the eye test, MacLeish has Giroux beat. He is the better skater of the two, and the more lethal sniper by some ways, having scored 49 or more goals twice. The tiebreaker is, you guessed it, playoff success. MacLeish was not simply present on the Flyers Stanley Cup teams, he was their secret weapon. Thanks to the freedom that the forechecking of Gary Dornhoefer and Ross Lonsberry afforded him on the second line, MacLeish terrorized defenses with his smooth skating and accurate wrister. He would score more than a point per game (10+ games played) in four separate postseasons for the Flyers, and fired in the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1974. Winner: MacLeish
Reggie Leach was recruited to the Flyers by youth teammate Bobby Clarke. The chemistry between the duo and Bill Barber fired the Flyers to a Stanley Cup victory over the Buffalo Sabres in 1975. They failed to repeat the trick in 1976, though Leach’s powerful shot found the net a record 19 times during the playoffs. The winger could get it done in the regular season too; in his Flyers career, he would have seasons of 45, 50, and an astounding 61 goals, still a team record. Giroux, however, has Leach edged in the all-around game. Leach never assisted on more than 36 goals and certainly was not a penalty killer. Leach also suffers from his association with Clarke, who is one of the game’s best-ever passers. While it takes a special player to score 61 goals, it is worth noting that “Cowboy” Bill Flett, a career third-liner, would score 43 beside Clarke the season before Leach’s arrival. Aside from his devastating slapshot, Leach’s player profile is just too thin to match Giroux. Winner: Giroux
Tim Kerr & Brian Propp
Brian Propp was a major cog in the Flyers 1980 Stanley Cup losing team, and arguably the best forward in their subsequent losses to Edmonton in 1985 and 1987. A consummate professional and all-around player, Propp was the Flyers’ third all-time leading scorer until Claude Giroux came along. Tim Kerr, a devastating net-front presence, was Propp’s linemate for the latter two losses. Kerr scored an astonishing 224 goals over 4 years from 1983-to 1987 and is the best pure power forward in franchise history. Despite the continued success the tandem of Kerr and Propp, centered by captain Dave Poulin, had throughout the 1980s, they both fall short of Giroux for different reasons. First of all, Giroux has spent more than ten years as the Flyers’ best skater. Despite their lack of achievement during that time, that is worth something. Defenseman Mark Howe was the signature player and generally the top-dog on Propp and Kerr’s teams. While Propp is very similar to Giroux, both on the stat sheet and the ice, he never had the adjacency to the league’s best players that Giroux achieved during stretches of his career. He also had the statistical boost of Kerr to buoy him. Giroux’s top goalscorers were Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds, good players to be sure, but not comparable to Kerr, who still holds the NHL record for powerplay goals in a season (34). Kerr was more dominant than Giroux during his peak years, but was a single-minded player whose physical style would see his later years ravaged by injury; Giroux has played almost 400 games more for the club. Winner: Giroux
Before Giroux, John Leclair was the last great Flyers forward not named Lindros. Jeremy Roenick and Mark Recchi could hardly be considered Flyers, while Simon Gagne and Mike Richards land in the good-not-great tier. Leclair, though, was quite something in his prime. His arrival alongside Eric Desjardins in 1994 took the Lindros teams to the next level, from also-ran to perennial contender. Leclair would score 40 or more goals for five consecutive seasons from 1995-2000, as he provided the end product to Eric Lindros’s passing vision. Leclair spent most of his ice time rushing the net, and so cannot be compared to Giroux stylistically. Statistically, on the other hand, the two are similar. Leclair’s points per game as a Flyer (.991) actually tops Giroux’s (.904), though it is worth noting that the former played for the team almost exclusively during his prime. Another parallel between the duo is their respective playoff disappearing acts; like Giroux, Leclair’s postseason career was defined by a few peaks and a great many valleys. Leclair’s failures are more damning thanks to the fact he played on truly competitive teams. Additionally, his decreased production sans Lindros (25 goals or less) implies the big American winger was better off as a sidekick. Winner: Giroux
Claude Giroux’s Flyers career will always be looked back on with regret, from the team’s inability to build around him to his failure to elevate his teammates in the playoffs. Those regrets, however, are not enough to sully his place in the history of the team. Being the best forward to not win a Stanley Cup or Hart Memorial Trophy in the history of the Second Six’s winningest team is nothing to scoff at.
Photo: Derik Hamilton/AP