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Claude Giroux and the Supposed Need to Escape from Richards and Carter's Shadows

Claude Giroux had a breakout year without Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, leading Ian Laperriere to say one doesn't happen without the other. The problem is that Giroux had a breakout year with Richards and Carter still here last year.

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The Los Angeles Kings are Stanley Cup Champions.

To most of the 28 NHL fanbases, this means nothing more than their favorite team did not win. To the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, this means five former players (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Justin Williams and Ron Hextall), two former coaches (Terry Murray and John Stevens), a former scout (Dean Lombardi), and quite possibly more members of the Cup-winning Kings had previously been a part of the Flyers organization.

Naturally, this evokes multiple emotions, many of which create conflict within oneself. The Kings' Cup win has also led to proclamations that the Flyers' off-season trades of Captain Mike Richards and alternate captain Jeff Carter were in error.

Don't listen to those people.

Broad Street Hockey's Travis Hughes, in the article linked above, quotes former Flyer Ian Laperriere as saying:

"They have to understand that Giroux became Giroux this year because the other two guys left. With those two guys in front of him, you just can't say 'Okay, Mike and Carts, you're going to be secondary scoring and we're going to leave the team to Giroux.'

"That's not the way it works. I don't think G would be who he is today. Maybe I'm wrong. That's my opinion, but I don't think he's the All-Star that G became this year if he doesn't have the ice time. This year he played a lot more than everybody else and that's what it takes when you want a guy to become a superstar on your team. If the other two guys had been here, I don't think it would have happened."

For as much as I respect Laperriere, this line of thinking sounds more like post hoc justification to assuage one's difficult emotions rather than an accurate portrayal of the cause and effect.

First, there is no denying that Claude Giroux had a better 11-12 season than he did in 10-11. However, that is not Mr. Laperriere's contention. He starts by saying that Giroux became Giroux as a result of Richards and Carter leaving. This is complete opinion, as Mr. Laperriere admits later on, but that doesn't mean everything he says must be free from skepticism.

Mr. Laperriere claims the Flyers could not ask Richards and Carter to be secondary scoring to Giroux.

Unfortunately, the Flyers already asked Richards and Carter to be secondary scoring to Giroux, and they had already accepted the role.

This year, Claude Giroux led all Flyers forwards in assists, points, and ice time on his way to being an All-Star. Last year, Claude Giroux led all Flyers forwards in assists, points, and ice time on his way to being an All-Star.

Let's look at Giroux last year and Giroux this year.

GP Goals Assists Points TOI Pts/60 CorsiRel CorsiRel QoC
2010-11 82 25 51 76 19:23 2.69 14.1 0.821
2011-12 77 28 65 93 21:32 2.73 6.9 0.805

His point total jumps this year, mostly from assists. Last year, Giroux played with Jeff Carter and an equal combination of Nikolay Zherdev and James van Riemsdyk on his other wing. This year, Giroux played with Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell, who had a career year. While Giroux should get some credit for Hartnell's season, his improved teammates should help explain most of his jump in assists.

But if you look at his non-traditional metrics, the quality of his competition and his point production per minute of ice time stayed the same. He was not facecd with any more difficult assignments and he was not producing at an expedited rate. His relative Corsi - the Flyers ability to get more shot attempts than the opposition with Giroux on the ice, compared to when he is on the bench - took a tumble this year, but it is still very impressive.

All-in-all, the numbers show a player who was very, very good at age 22 and improved slightly at age 23. We can never know if that would that still have happened without the trades, but I would be surprised to learn anybody had proclaimed Claude Giroux was being held back by Richards and Carter in May of last year.

He was named the Flyers MVP at the year-end awards, afterall.

Beyond that, all one had to do to see if Richards and Carter were preventing Giroux from emerging as the on-ice leader was look at the Flyers in the 2011 playoffs. Claude Giroux led all forwards with 21:57 per game, a full two minutes more than any other player. Mike Richards, by the way, was fourth in playoff ice time per game.

I'm sorry, Mr. Laperriere, but your contention that Claude Giroux could not become the player he is today with Richards and Carter still here ignores the fact that he became the player he is today while Richards and Carter were still here.

The only difference is that most fans didn't realize it. Well, that's not entirely fair. I'm sure a lot of fans did realize it. Instead, the only difference is that most people didn't talk about it. Despite Peter Laviolette giving Giroux the reins last year, it wasn't going to be accepted as true so long as numbers 17 and 18 were in Philly.

Despite Richards and Carter ranking third and fourth in regular season scoring, as well as second and fourth in regular season ice time, many people still believed it was their role to score points and eat up minutes. That they were more than "secondary scoring", as Mr. Laperriere called it.

Despite this gap in perception and reality widening in the playoffs, the belief that Giroux was the primary scoring option and first line center still did not catch up to reality. Richards and Carter ranked 4th and 10th in playoff scoring and 4th and 7th in ice time per game.

Claude Giroux, meanwhile, was first in regular season scoring, regular season ice time, playoff scoring, and playoff ice time among all forwards. Mr. Laperriere, do you still contend that Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were incapable of being asked to fulfill a secondary scoring role? Because they had already done so.

Off ice, it is another issue. The Flyers would have still been seen as Richards' team so long as he was here. The spotlight still would have been on him and the one-time 46 goal scorer, despite Claude Giroux occupying the first line center position for an entire season.

As a result, Giroux's leadership and off-ice role could easily be said to have been stunted had the trades not been made. While one can imagine scenarios where the off-ice face of the franchise could have become Giroux while Richards was still here, it is much easier to believe that process would have been ugly in the press.

That's not what Mr. Laperriere is saying, however. His contention was that Richards and Carter wouldn't accept being secondary scoring here. This ignores the fact that they already had.

Mr. Laperriere's contention was that Claude Giroux wouldn't be an All-Star like he was this year. The problem is that he already was.

Mr. Lapperriere contends that Giroux needed the ice time he got this year to truly breakout. He already led the team in ice time during last year's regular season, and he played two minutes more than anybody else in the playoffs.

"Here, they were the face of the franchise, but there they're not, and I think it's a better fit for those two guys," Lappy said. "They're not the top players. They're second-line there. They have Kopitar and Brown in front of them.

Face of the franchise? You're absolutely right, Mr. Laperriere, and that is no small element either. I don't think anybody will disagree that Los Angeles is a much better atmosphere, both as a sports town and as a locker room, for Richards and Carter. It's just a better fit than here.

It's nice to see Giroux out of their shadow. I'm sure the organization prefers his media relations and representation of the team better than his predecessors. It is easy say that doesn't happen without the trades, because it's probably true.

But Richards and Carter weren't the top players here. Jeff Carter was moved to Giroux's wing last year. Mike Richards was paired with a combination of James van Riemsdyk, Kris Versteeg, and Andreas Nodl for most of the year.

Here, they had Giroux and Briere in front of them (in points and ice time during the playoffs, almost exactly the same in the regular season). This year, they could have had Giroux and Hartnell in front of them, doing exactly what Kopitar and Brown did for them in L.A.

Claude Giroux had already become the first line center, go-to point producer, and ice time leader. To say Claude Giroux would not be the player he is now with Richards and Carter protecting him in the lineup ignores the fact that his production and roles remained constant from one year to the next.

You don't have to regret the trades, or think the Flyers are worse today than last summer to admit that Claude Giroux was a beast even when he was in Richards and Carter's shadow. You also don't have to think Giroux is the same person now that he was last year.

When the trades were made, multiple people, including GM Paul Holmgren, cited Claude Giroux's emergence as a reason why the team could live without Richards and Carter. Now, we have people telling us Claude Giroux only emerged because of the trades.

Sorry, Mr. Laperriere, but it can't be both. Either Giroux emerged, allowing the trades or the trades allowed Giroux's emergence.

A simple look at history shows the trades only let fans notice what had already happened.