One Year Later: How the Flyers Have Changed Since the End of the Giroux Era

On March 17, 2022, Philadelphia Flyers fans flocked to the Wells Fargo Center to honor captain Claude Giroux as he was preparing to skate in his 1000th NHL game, all of which were spent in Philadelphia. The evening celebrated all of Giroux’s storied moments in Orange and Black; from being drafted in 2006 to “The Shift” to his overtime winner at Lincoln Financial Field. It was an incredibly memorable night for the Flyers and their fans – not only because they were celebrating an incredible milestone for their longtime captain, but also because the evening simultaneously served as an emotional farewell. With Giroux’s contract expiring at the end of the season, the trade deadline merely days away, and the Flyers nowhere near a playoff spot, Giroux was a prime trade candidate. And traded he was – two days later Giroux waived his no movement clause to accept a trade to the Florida Panthers to chase a Stanley Cup.

The trade signaled the end of Giroux’s legendary sixteen-year tenure with the Flyers, but it also served as the beginning of a new age for the team. Giroux was the face of the franchise and the one constant through all of the change that surrounded him in the organization over the years. But because he had been here for so long, it was difficult for many fans to imagine the team without Giroux. For me personally, Giroux and the 2010 Cup Run were the reason I started watching the Flyers in the first place, and so I had never known the Flyers without #28. But it was time for the organization to turn over a new leaf and that started with the departure of Giroux.

So how has the organization fared in their mission to usher in a new era of Flyers hockey? From a roster perspective, they’re more or less right where Giroux left them.

After General Manager Chuck Fletcher consummated the trade with Florida, the Flyers continued on their fall to the bottom of the standings and finished the year with the fourth-worst record in the league. They had a top 5 pick for the first time since 2017. Fletcher promised the winds of change were coming in the offseason, recognizing that the team’s play from the previous year was unacceptable and stated he was going to pursue “an aggressive retool” to bring the Flyers back into playoff contention. That mission was an unquestionable failure. Fletcher did acquire an NHL free agent from South Jersey, but not the one everyone wanted. Since he was unable to clear the cap space to sign star winger Johnny Gaudreau, Fletcher settled for trading multiple draft picks to acquire Tony DeAngelo, a more expensive version of Shayne Gostisbehere that Fletcher jettisoned out of town. He also signed longtime fourth liner Nic Deslauriers to a four year contract with trade protection. Besides that, there were no notable additions or subtractions to the roster, and that includes from those on LTIR. Ryan Ellis and Sean Couturier both continued to deal with long-term injuries and have not seen NHL game action this season. Though it’s likely Ellis will never play professional hockey again, Sean Couturier is still working on a return, though by the time he plays in his next game, it will have been over two full calendar years since he last played. When we do see him again, it certainly won’t be the Sean Couturier the fans are used to. Cam Atkinson also joined the injury boat after sustaining an injury during preseason workouts, and will not play a game this season. Funnily enough, one of the pieces acquired in Giroux trade, Owen Tippett has benefitted from the change of scenery and has scored 18 goals so far this season. That aside, Fletcher essentially chose to enter this season by running it back with almost the same roster from Giroux’s last season, and unsurprisingly, that has left them as one of the worst teams in the league this season.

In fact, the biggest personnel difference since the Giroux trade has come from behind the bench. When Giroux was traded, Mike Yeo was the interim coach of the Flyers after head coach Alain Vigneault had been fired earlier in the season for the team’s poor performance. Fletcher noted in his end-of-season press conference that the team intended to move on from Yeo and shortly before the draft, the front office announced that John Tortorella was hired to be the new bench boss of the Flyers. This was a coach known for his defensive-minded system and squeezing every possible ounce of talent out of his rosters. He is a notoriously tough coach and was brought in to not only restore the fracture in the Flyers’ locker room but make them a much more conditioned team as well.

He’s certainly achieved the latter. Compared to the last several years, the level of effort the team shows on a in games is like night and day. They play hard and you can see the team is giving it their all on the ice; however, they simply do not have the talent to truly compete. This was a mantra that was true in the Giroux era as the team often lacked more than one or two high-end players to play with G, but this has become more exacerbated since his departure. From a culture perspective, Giroux’s absence is deeply felt. Giroux was the centerpiece of the locker room: he was the team captain, a franchise legend, and the glue that held the locker room together. However, it was no secret that the culture in the Flyers’ locker room had slowly started to become an issue over the last couple years, but without him all the wheels fell off. So much so that prior to the start of the season, Tortorella stated that he had major concerns about the locker room, and after evaluating the team, determined that only Scott Laughton deserved to wear a letter on his sweater for the Flyers this season. In his role as de facto captain, Laughton has done a solid job at trying to fill the large shoes that Giroux left behind. The most shining example of this is when Ivan Provorov refused to wear the Pride Night jerseys like the rest of his teammates. This prevented the team from putting on a wholly united front, which is what his teammates had hoped to convey by wearing the jerseys. Laughton handled the media availability about this with the utmost class, and reiterated that he and the organization believe that hockey is for everyone. Aside from this incident, the rest of the team appears unified with the coach, which will help bring the locker room culture back up to par.

Claude Giroux is a Flyers legend, and will rightfully see his Number 28 hang from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center one day. His final game with team a year ago today is one that many Flyers fans will remember for years to come. When a player of that gargantuan status leaves your organization, there is a lot left in its wake. The talent level of the team has dropped and the culture in the locker room has taken a hit as well, and that speaks to the tremendous impact that Giroux had on both. Sometimes you have to take one step back to take a couple steps forward, and that seems to be the direction the Flyers are pivoting to. They have finally given up on Fletcher as general manager, relieving him of his duties last week, and instilling former Giroux teammate Danny Briere as the interim GM. In his first media availability, Briere was not afraid to say that the Flyers need a rebuild – which is what the departure of Giroux a year ago should have been the catalyst for. But maybe, just maybe, if they do it right, they can bring in the next Claude Giroux.

By: Katie Bogan (@cl4udegiroux)

photo credit: nhl.com

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