Return in Giroux Trade the Result of Shortcomings by Flyers Management

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

As Thursday night’s events unfolded, it was obvious what was taking place. Claude Giroux was waving goodbye to the fans of Philadelphia.

His 1,000th NHL game, a 5-4 Flyers win over the Nashville Predators, was his swan song in Philadelphia. He took a victory lap. Then he got a curtain call. He hugged each teammate. He spoke postgame for 10 minutes about the ride of the last 15 years and the culmination of all of that time in one night.

Long before Giroux’s 1,000th game and the decision to hold him out of Friday’s game in anticipation of a trade, his fate was essentially sealed. The Flyers were aggressive in the offseason and turned over half of the roster. It resulted in the opposite of its intention: another season of struggles that have the Flyers currently in the bottom five of the league.

Giroux is a competitor. More than anything, he wants to win. If he wanted his shot to win a Stanley Cup, he was going to have to go elsewhere to get it. That destination is Florida, as Giroux was moved to the Panthers on Saturday, officially marking the end of an era. 

In the end, Giroux ultimately held the keys to his destination. Florida was where he wanted to be. That left the Flyers limited in what they could get in return. The package back to Philadelphia was 2017 first-round pick Owen Tippett, a 2024 first-round pick, and a 2023 third-round pick. The Flyers also retained 50 percent of Giroux’s salary and also sent Connor Bunnaman, German Rubtsov, and a 2024 fifth-round pick as part of the package.

Tippett is going to be a project. The former 10th overall pick can offer some potential, but ultimately hasn’t been able to prove himself at the NHL level. The Flyers are taking a chance that he will find his game here, but it’s yet another leap of faith for a franchise that could certainly use something with more certainty in their future. 

The first-round pick, certainly an essential in the deal, isn’t for another three years. That’s too far down the line to make any sort of impact in the near future. The mid-round pick in 2023, which is said to be a strong draft class, is also a nice inclusion, but still nothing more than a lottery ticket at this point.

For Flyers fans steaming and stewing over the return in the Giroux deal and the amount surrendered to make it happen, it’s certainly not on Giroux. If you are upset, direct it at the four different GMs in his tenure with the Flyers, from Bobby Clarke – who drafted Giroux in 2006 – to Paul Holmgren – who signed Giroux to the eight-year contract extension that is currently in its final year and that featured the no-move clause that put the keys in his hands – to Ron Hextall and Chuck Fletcher – during whose tenure Giroux’s prime years were wasted.

Blame management for the constant carousel of coaches, seven in total over Giroux’s 15 years in Philadelphia and six in total during his years as captain from 2013 to this deal. Blame them for the lack of talent that was around Giroux in the last decade of his career and the countless amount of average players that made up the roster over the last several seasons. Blame them for not taking the path to rebuilding this the proper way years ago and potentially trying to maximize his value when he was a Hart Trophy candidate.

Giroux entered the league on a roster that had a bright future, a core group of players that included veterans like Danny Briere, Simon Gagne, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, and eventually Chris Pronger, and a young core with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

Even following trades of Richards and Carter and a career-ending injury to Pronger, Giroux emerged as the team’s best player and had a supporting cast of Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier around him. 

The team went on a Stanley Cup Final run in 2010 with the former and a strong season in 2012 with the latter signaled the potential for greater success to come.

But things started to become stagnant. The team was woefully mediocre in the final decade of Giroux’s time with the team. No player surpassed Giroux’s talent level and production. Even as he entered the years beyond his prime, he was still the team’s best player. There were multiple playoff appearances in the last decade where Giroux put the team on his shoulders and willed them to a first-round exit, to the point where his playoff numbers ultimately were lacking because the tank was empty.

All of it has culminated with this move, one that was never part of the plan back in 2013. Giroux loved the city of Philadelphia and still does. He never wanted to leave. But the reality was that Giroux was never going to win a Stanley Cup in Philadelphia, not with the amount of time left in his playing career and the amount of holes the Flyers would need to fill to build a true Cup contender.

It left them at a crossroads. Giroux could have elected to stay and the Flyers could have honored the request. He earned that right with the no-move clause. But if he wanted to win, they owed it to him to get him to the proper destination, one of his choice. Now, Florida loads up their lineup with potentially the one final piece they need to reach the next level. 

Perhaps holding onto Giroux was also more of an option just over a week ago, prior to the team signing Rasmus Ristolainen to a five-year extension. Ristolainen was another trade chip at the deadline, and could have brought in a decent return.

But with $5.1 million tied up to Ristolainen going forward, two new contract extensions for Couturier and Joel Farabee starting next season, and Giroux still in need a new deal himself if he were to stay beyond this season, choosing to keep him or lose him for nothing via free agency was really not an option. They needed to get what they could and did. They needed to continue to set the course for a new beginning.

If nothing else, the return in the Giroux deal is more of a reality of what the state of the Flyers is and remains after this trade, and the result of years of shortcomings by the organization. Sure, they could tap into the potential that Florida saw in Tippett when they drafted him in the Top 10 of the 2017 Draft. Sure, they could get a high draft pick this season based on performance, get a legitimate talent and maybe parlay the 2024 first-rounder received for Giroux into a hockey trade that addressed one of those holes. But that’s once again relying on hope. 

It also continues to send a contrasting message to the “aggressive retool” that they envision for the offseason. An underwhelming return, which was really on par for the amount of leverage they had in negotiations, still won’t move the needle and quite frankly feels all wrong when discussing a franchise icon like Claude Giroux. 

It doesn’t even begin to start the franchise on the right path back to relevance. It doesn’t build confidence that anybody in the front office is right for the job to get the team there. There’s a good chance it will make fans even more sour about the immediate future of the team and their interest in it. 

There is still time for the Flyers to make something of the trade deadline. Justin Braun will likely fetch a nice return in the next two days. There’s a chance that Derick Brassard or Martin Jones could get moved and bring back some assets for the future. 

But this was the headlining move, the one that featured the longest-tenured captain in Flyers history, after a decade of futility. And this was the best they could do, the end result of a decade of shortcomings by the organization from top to bottom.