Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf are the two leading candidates for the NHL’s Hart Trophy and have been for most of the season, but there’s one player building a strong resume for the award as we enter the final stage of the regular season.
That man is Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux.
The 26-year-old center has been at the center of Philly’s recent resurgence up the Eastern Conference standings. The Flyers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, and the team’s dominant 4-0 win over the rival Penguins on Saturday vaulted it ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the third guaranteed playoff spot in the Metropolitan division.
Since he was unfairly snubbed from Canada’s roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Giroux has responded with an astounding 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 24 games.
His recent offensive explosion puts him 12th on the league’s scoring list with 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) in 65 games. He leads his team in goals (23), assists (42), game-winning goals (four), shots (181), power-play ice timer per game (3:50) and total ice time per game among forwards (20:35). The former first-round pick has been responsible for just over 35.1 percent of the Flyers’ offense (65 points on 185 total goals).
Giroux is also making a positive impact defensively. He’s won an impressive 52.6 percent of his faceoffs, which ranks higher than other top centers such as Boston’s David Krejci (51.8), St. Louis’ David Backes (50.8), Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom (49.9) and Getzlaf (48.4). His 34 blocked shots and 35 takeaways rank third and second on the team among forwards, respectively.
It’s also important to note how poor the Flyers’ goaltending has been this season. The tandem of Steve Mason and Ray Emery has been inconsistent all year, and the team ranks 22nd in goals against. The Flyers need to score a lot of goals to win because their goaltenders aren’t likely to steal games with clutch third-period saves (Philly has given up the fifth-most third-period goals), and this puts a lot of pressure on Giroux to be productive offensively on a consistent basis. Through three quarters of the season, he’s passed this test with fantastic results.
Giroux’s numbers aren’t earth-shattering, and that could hurt his chances of winning MVP — only one Hart Trophy-winning forward has finished outside the top three in scoring since 1990 (Mark Messier in 1991-92). But it’s not hard to see why his scoring production and leadership make him so valuable to the Flyers. When he tallies at least one point, Philly is 27-12-3, compared to 6-13-3 when the captain fails to find the score sheet. After the Flyers started 1-7, which led to head coach Peter Laviolette being fired, Giroux has posted 62 points in the last 59 games as the Flyers have gone 34-18-7.
If the Flyers reach the postseason after failing to make it last year, Giroux will be the main reason why. Not only does the captain create his own offense, his remarkable playmaking skill generates scoring opportunities for his teammates at even strength and on the power play.
Very few players make a stronger impact on their team’s success than Giroux, which is why he deserves to be at the forefront of the Hart Trophy discussion alongside Crosby and Getzlaf.