Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why Claude Giroux is the NHL's Best Player

claude giroux flyers moustache
Claude Giroux just might be the best player in the league not named Sidney Crosby.

Giroux is currently leading the league in scoring with 39 points, despite missing the last four games with a concussion. His 16 goals are four behind league leader Steven Stamkos and he is the best player on the Eastern Conference's second best team.

His ascension to élite status is even more impressive considering the Flyers placed enormous pressure on the fourth year forward to lead their team after they shipped out Mike Richards and Jeff Carter - their best defensive forward and their best goal scorer. Giroux, at the ripe old age of 23, has effectively replaced both Richards and Carter in all aspects of the game. Why pay over $10 million for two players to do the job one can do?

One might argue that another 2006 draft choice, Chicago's Jonathan Toews, is a better player than Giroux and that would be a totally defensible position. Toews has 18 goals and 35 points and plays in all situations for the best team in the Western Conference. However, Giroux's production combined with the role he plays for the Flyers gives him the edge over the former Conn Smythe winner.  

What's particularly impressive about Giroux's season is that the Flyers are treating him like a defensive specialist, rather than a prime scorer. Giroux only starts 46.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone. The Flyers rely on him heavily in their own end. Only two forwards on the Flyers start more often in the defensive end: Maxim Talbot and, surprisingly, rookie Sean Couturier.

The Flyers don't utilize a traditional checking line, instead matching Giroux, along with linemate Jaromir Jagr, against the opposition's best forwards each night. So despite starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone and against the opposition's best players, Giroux leads the league in scoring. That's truly remarkable.

As a comparison, Jonathan Toews faces strong competition as well - especially if you believe the Western Conference is the stronger conference - but the Blackhawks use Dave Bolland as their checking centre, freeing Toews up for more offensive minutes. This isn't because Toews can't handle the defensive responsibility - he clearly can - it's just Chicago has the luxury of a premium defensive centre like Bolland, which the Flyers do not.

Because of Bolland, the Hawks are able to start Toews in the offensive zone 61.4% of the time, almost 15 percentage points more than Giroux. Even though Toews is getting more prime offensive minutes and doesn't have to match-up against the opposition's best players as much, he still trails Giroux in scoring.

The difference between the two is also apparent on special teams.

Giroux plays on the second unit of the Philadelphia penalty kill, close to three minutes a game, and he does so better than Toews. The Flyers give up about 7.5 goals per 60 minutes when Giroux is killing penalties; the Hawks give up about 10.75 goals per 60 minutes when Toews is killing penalties, which is  surprisingly the worst rate on the Blackhawks.

Giroux's penalty killing ability is even more important because the Flyers lead the league in penalties.

The major area where Toews is much better than Giroux is in the face-off circle. Giroux was in the top-10 in total faceoffs before sustaining his injury, but his 51.5% rate only places him 37th in the league. Toews has taken the fifth most faceoffs in the league and leads with an astounding 61% rate.

At this point in their careers Toews is the more accomplished player. He has captained a Stanley Cup winning team, won a Conn Smythe trophy, and was the best player in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, playing an integral role in Canada's Gold medal.

But despite the disparity in hardware, it's apparent that Claude Giroux has all the talent to add a few trophies to his mantle as well, and if he can recover from his concussion that just might start with a Hart Trophy in June.

1 comment:

Bo Jackson said...

I think Jonathan Toews is the better overall player, but Claude Giroux is certainly having a better season.

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