Claude Giroux is a guy that most people think of as an offensive-minded player. For the majority of his career, that’s been totally apt. By Evolving Hockey’s EVO and Off GAR stats, Giroux has consistently been a top-flight scoring threat since his breakout 2010-2011 season. Silky mitts and powerplay quarterbacking will likely be the main memories that Flyers fans will carry from Giroux’s tenure long after he’s hung up his skates. Lately, the franchise icon has been undergoing a transition, becoming the type of player who earned guys like Mike Richards and Bobby Clarke the fans’ undying love.
Hi there, everyone; I’m Eamon Smith, and I’m here to have some fun with numbers. Today we’re going to embark on an analytics-driven investigation of how Claude Giroux became the NHL’s most underrated grinder. What exactly am I talking about? When did Giroux become this kind of player? What has he been doing besides scoring that’s made him so quietly effective? Read on to find out.
Crunching the Numbers: Claude Giroux, All-World Grinder
Many hotshot scoring threats eventually begin to slow down and play “steadier” hockey as they age. Steve Yzerman is a perfect example of this archetype. Giroux has always been the Flyers’ main threat to score. Still, his relatively slight frame has always pigeonholed him as a one-way player in the eyes of some skeptics. As the wrist and hip injuries racked up and the scoring declined, people thought we’d seen the end of Giroux as a superstar. Instead, we were gifted with one of the best bounce-back years in league history. People might not realize that Giroux’s 102-point season is this simple fact: his defense largely propelled it. If we look at player value metrics over the course of Giroux’s career, the timeline looks like this:
Giroux clearly had an offensive jump from his early years, shattering his former career-high offensive grade of 13.9 with a solid 20. However, the evident and lasting improvement came in his own end. The shift to the wing took Giroux from being a career-negative defender (averaged -.035 defensive value/60 for his career before that) to an elite two-way presence (14th among all wingers in defensive value in 2017-2018). The captain saw new highs in takeaways, EVD, and SHD value. All driven by one simple thing: he was a better fit along the wing from a physical perspective.
Giroux has always been a good faceoff artist and playmaker. However, in terms of size, he was never truly a good fit for the strain that a centerman in the NHL has to deal with, especially defensively. Going against big pivots like Evgeni Malkin and Niklas Backstrom was never a good matchup for a smaller guy. It only makes sense that moving him to the wing would play to his strengths of intelligent positioning, surgical stick work, and solid fundamental decision making.
Like Fine Wine
It’s clear to anyone who watches the Flyers that Giroux is aging. Still, with his newfound status as an elite defensive winger who can force takeaways, kill penalties and win faceoffs, it’s clear to me that #28 will slide nicely into a middle-six role while his time in the NHL winds down. Since 2016, Giroux boasts a 35.8 carry allowed percentage and a 19.1 average passes allowed percentage, putting him in elite territory amongst wingers. His closest contemporaries at forward? Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, and Artemi Panarin. Giroux even grades out better than Mark Stone in these micro stats. While he clearly isn’t at Stone’s level defensively, he is definitely better in this specialty.
While skating and shooting don’t often age well for players, passing and the ability to read the game do. Giroux’s elite mind and touch, combined with his newfound ability to stymie the opposition on entries, make him a deadly threat to produce rush chances. The Flyers aren’t getting flashy goals featuring sick hands as often anymore. However, Claude Giroux has found his niche as a veteran whose scoring is inevitably declining. He can spring the younger guys by preventing zone entries and launching the puck the other way with deadly accuracy.
Claude Giroux’s contract expires in the 2022 offseason, but I doubt that he’ll ever walk into free agency. Especially if he maintains his current level of play. On a Flyers team that’s been abysmal defensively, he’s ranked 2nd best in xGA/60, behind only Connor Bunnaman. Among all forwards leaguewide, he ranks 6th in defensive value above replacement and 10th in EVD, both elite marks. Giroux will likely age well, continuing to exploit opponents with his improved defense. Also, doing his offensive damage where he still excels: the controlled cycle and stretch passes.
At 33 years old, there’s no end in sight to the pervasive greatness that makes up his game. Even if it’s coming in a different form than usual. It’s time to appreciate the little things that make the captain’s game great and enjoy his newfound defensive prowess. If you’re looking for it, you’ll notice he’s contributing in subtler (but still important) facets. Hopefully, the experienced winger can replicate Yzerman’s career twilight in more ways than one.
All stats and viz via Evolving-Hockey.com, Corey Sznajder (All Three Zones 2016-Present), and HockeyViz.com (Micah Blake McCurdy).
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire