Stop blaming Claude Giroux for Flyers scoring woes

Stop blaming Claude Giroux for Flyers scoring woes

Flyers captain Claude Giroux has taken an abundance of heat lately.

As the captain and most talented attacker, he rightfully wears the responsibility of his 28th ranked offense and 18th ranked power play. He deserves contempt for his lackadaisical play and poor puck decisions.

Yet while much of the condemnation facing Giroux is justified, the most criticized aspect of his game has been his lack of goals. And this is wrong for one simple reason:

Giroux is not a goal scorer.

In 2011-12, when Giroux broke out as an elite player with 93 points, he still only managed 28 goals -- his career high. The season prior he had 25 and he was on pace for 22 goals in the lockout-shortened year. Giroux is a playmaker with some finishing ability and will always be a pass-first player that relies on shooters to build his point totals.

Taking Giroux to task for his inability to finish isn’t unimaginable, however. Despite a team-leading 23 points, he is only on pace for 15 goals this season, a drastic dip from his career average. Yet there’s reason to believe that will improve in the upcoming months.

With a goal against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, Giroux’s shooting percentage grew to 6.7%, a step closer to his career average of 12%. This means Giroux, who leads the Flyers in shots with 89, will start finding net more often and the posts less, as long as he keeps capitalizing on shot opportunities.

And this improvement has already begun.

If you subtract the awful 15-game scoreless drought to begin the season, Giroux has all six of his goals over a 17-game span. It’s nearly a 30-goal pace since the start of November and he hasn’t gone on a substantial streak yet.

Giroux’s problems aren’t with finishing but with his control over the game.

Often he's played a passive role on both sides of the puck and gone missing for games at a time. Craig Berube’s suddenly defensive Flyers aren’t deep enough offensively for Giroux to be a secondary player and you don’t need two hands to count the times he’s been the team’s MVP or willed the Flyers to victory.

In other words, “Playoff” Giroux has not been seen.

Through 32 games this season, Giroux has yet to have a three-point game and has just five two-point games. Compare that to the lockout year when he had 14 multi-point efforts in 48 games and it’s easy to see why many expect more from him -- because he’s good for it.

What makes Giroux such a talent is his playmaking vision and ability to upgrade the production of those around him. Not his goal scoring. So if you’re looking for the cure to the Flyers’ scoring woes, don’t point the finger solely at Giroux, but look at his linemates, too.

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.