Sunday, September 24

Analysis: The Giroux Trade in Context

On Thursday, it was easy to get caught up in the emotion of the celebration night for Claude Giroux‘s 1,000th game in a Flyers’ uniform. By Friday, however, the inevitability that the upcoming unrestricted free agent was going to be in a Florida Panthers by Monday’s NHL trade deadline had set in. The Flyers going on the road to play the Ottawa Senators on Friday and Giroux staying behind in Philadelphia made crystal clear that it was only a question of when — not if — the deal with the Panthers would go down.

As a player with a full no-movement clause (NMC) in his contract, Giroux had every right to consider as many — or as few — teams to which he’d consider waiving the NMC. He also had the right to determine the timetable for doing so. 

In this case, Giroux’s list was a list of one: Florida. It was a fact that had been known around the National Hockey League for several weeks. While it was possible that the player could opt to add other potential destinations — which would have driven up the trade price by spurring competing trade offers — Giroux and agent Pat Brisson were under no obligation to do so. 

At the end of the day, hockey is still a business. Claude Giroux found himself in a somewhat similar position to Peter Forsberg in 2007, Mats Sundin in 2008, Simon Gagne in the summer of 2010, and John Tavares as the start of free agency in 2018 approached. Each player had the right to consider potential destinations and to find the best situation for himself. 

The inevitable happened on Saturday afternoon: The Flyers traded Giroux, Connor Bunnaman, German Rubtsov and a 2024 fifth-round pick to the Florida Panthers. In return, the Flyers received 23-year-old right winger Owen Tippett, a conditional 2024 first-round pick and a 2023 third-round pick.

Evaluated as a hockey trade with the emotion of Giroux’s departure taken away, the Flyers had to make the best of negotiating within the terms of what Florida general manager Bill Zito was willing to offer without having to compete to land Giroux.  

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Even had there been a bidding war for Giroux, the Flyers were not going to be able to be able in short order to fill the void left in the lineup and the locker room. Players of Giroux’s caliber — a seven-time NHL All-Star, former Hart Trophy finalist, five-time winner of the Bobby Clarke Trophy, second in overall scoring, assists and games played in franchise history — do not come along very often. That’s just the reality.

“Any day that you trade your captain is a tough day, and with how much Claude has meant to this organization and how he has represented himself for 15 years, makes it all that more difficult to say goodbye. Claude is one of the best players to ever wear a Flyer uniform,” said Chuck Fletcher, the Flyers president of hockey operations and general manager.

It was clear ahead of the trade that Tippett was going to be part of the eventual deal for Giroux. The player, who was the American Hockey League’s Player of the Week a week ago, was held out of the AHL Charlotte Checkers’ lineup in advance of the trade. Even before that, Tippett’s name came up frequently in Giroux-related trade rumors; more so than other prospects who’d also been mentioned in rumors (such as Alexsi Heponiemi).

Selected by Florida with the 10th overall pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Tippett is a player with excellent tools — big body, good skater, above-average goal-scoring upside — who has so far only shown flashes of the player he could become if he maximizes his potential. The player’s 200-foot game still remains a work in progress. Greater consistency is needed from him. Statistically, Tippett has produced 14 goals and 33 points in 94 NHL regular season games along with four points in six Stanley Cup playoff games last year.  

In terms of tools, Tippett has some similarities to Flyers right wing prospect Wade Allison. Tippett is younger than Allison and has been able to stay healthier so far in their respective careers. Tippett is more polished and is smoother on his skates than Allison, who has a certain “Hartnell down” like tendency in game action. Both are very good natural shooters. Allison brings a bit more in the way of sheer on-ice intensity, relish for battling in the trenches and throwing his weight around aggressively (which, unfortunately, has worked against Allison at times health-wise, although he’s also been exceptionally unlucky in terms of sustaining freakish injuries). There is room for both wingers in an NHL organization, especially while they are trying to sort out which players they can trust for the long-haul. Incidentally, there is an uncanny facial resemblance between the two red-headed players. For now, Allison will remain in the AHL with the Phantoms as he regains his game-conditioning and timing following multiple lengthy injury-related absences this season (high ankle sprain, elbow/arm injury, sprained MCL).

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Tippett will report directly to the Flyers. He’ll wear No. 74, as he did with Florida. Tippett and Flyers center/left wing Morgan Frost were teammates on Team Canada at the 2018-19 World Junior Championships. They’ve also played against each other in the Ontario Hockey League and the AHL. It’s possible, at some point, that Frost and Tippett could be tried as NHL linemates.

“I’m really excited for this new opportunity to join a team, build with them and get a fresh start,” said Tippett. “I’m still working on trying to round out my 200-foot game, but overall I think I can bring offense, size and speed to the lineup. I’m really excited to get going and meet everyone.”

In terms of the main Draft pick compensation obtained from the Giroux trade, here’s why the first-round pick the Flyers obtained is for 2024 and not sooner. 

Florida already lacked a 2022 first-round pick. Last Wednesday, the day before Giroux dressed in his 1,000th game for the Flyers, the Panthers traded their 2023 first-round pick, prospect Ty Smilanic, and a 2022 second-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for veteran defenseman Ben Chiarot. Thus, by the time Giroux’s 1,000th game had been played and the player was ready to waive his NMC, the earliest first-round pick Florida still had available to trade was their 2024 first rounder.

The 2024 Entry Draft is a long way off. It’s also a conditional pick, with the condition being that Florida has the option of giving the Flyers’ their 2025 first rounder instead if the 2024 first-round pick lands in the top 10 of the Entry Draft. However, it should also be noted that first-round picks are valuable assets to keep in their pocket to either use down the road or trade in a future deal for an NHL roster player. If the Flyers eventually use the pick, it won’t be until several years beyond that until there’s a sense of what the organization might have in that player. 

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Why did the Flyers include Bunnaman and Rubtsov in the trade? Rubtsov, whom the Flyers selected in the first round of the 2016 Entry Draft, has struggled mightily over the last six years with injuries, offensive self-confidence and his corresponding level of assertiveness on the ice, is no longer in the organization’s plans. He has not played at all in the NHL since a four-game stint in 2019-20. Bunnaman, who has dressed in 54 NHL regular season games for the Flyers plus four games in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, appeared in 15 games for the Flyers this season and 41 AHL games with the Phantoms. At the NHL level, he’s played almost exclusively in a fourth-line role. 

The departures of Bunnaman and Rubtsov bring the Flyers down to 46 of a maximum 50 NHL contracts for the rest of the 2021-22 season. This opens the door for the Flyers to have slots available for all three among collegiate prospects Bobby Brink, Ronnie Attard and Noah Cates to turn pro and be signed to NHL entry-level contracts before the end of this season. 

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