Giroux – Center or Wing, which one is it?
With the Flyers in a difficult spot again this season and with the need for better overall roster depth, many people are asking, would the Flyers be better off with Giroux at the center position?
The Case for Center
Many people believe in the theory that a more balanced approach to a roster brings about better offense. Take, for example, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Leafs head coach Mike Babcock believes in “pairs.” For each of his four forward lines, he has “pairs” of forwards he rarely changes. He wants these pairs to be “stagnant.” He will move around the 3rd piece of a line, but rarely the pairs themselves. This is a strategy Babcock has used throughout his career, and it has been mostly successful. The theory behind this approach is that if a roster has three solid “pairs,” it is harder for other teams to match up against.
However, we would be remiss to suggest this is the only approach to overall production and the ability. Take, for example, the Boston Bruins. Their top line of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak is one of the best in the NHL, They score far and away the most goals of any of Boston’s lines. This line drives the entirety of the Bruins’ offense. This is mostly successful. However, from a tactic standpoint, it is also easy to shut down. It is not surprising that in the playoffs last season, when this line was not able to produce, the Bruins lost games.
It seems plausible that likely the “pairs” approach is a more viable approach to long-term sustained success and stability scoring-wise as a “deep” unit. So what might the Flyers pairs look like with Giroux at center?
Giroux at Center Pairings
#1 Pair Center – Giroux Winger – Voracek
#2 Pair Center – Couturier Winger – J.V.R.
#3 Pair Center – Patrick Winger – Simmonds
With some consistency, the Flyers top three with Giroux permanently at center would potentially look like:
Overall, with Giroux at center, the Flyers would significantly space out their scoring. Couturier’s production would likely take a decrease, but playing with J.V.R. means he would still have a scoring winger to play with regularly. If the Flyers want to try and win now, moving Giroux to center permanently makes sense for this reason.
The Case for Wing
There is no question that Giroux saw a resurgence on the wing last season. Part of this is twofold. First, though not measurable by an actual statistic, Giroux looked energized last season. Playing on the wing usually brings less responsibility, and Giroux looked like a man reborn. Second, his overall point production went up significantly last season because of this newfound comfort. Couturier also saw a huge increase in points. While the Flyers would potentially have more balanced scoring with Giroux as a center, there is a possibility of the Flyers scoring more overall goals with him on the wing.
Like Boston, the Flyers showed last year that a dominant top line could get them in the playoffs. While they could be more easily shut down with Giroux on the wing, the Flyers can throw one of the top 10 best lines in hockey on the ice on a regular basis. Any team’s top pairing may have a difficult time shutting this line. This is true, even in a down season for the Flyers.
So which one is it? Center or Wing?
Prospects within the Organization
This is an overall difficult situation to make a call on as a whole. Giroux’s underlying numbers are almost identical at both center or wing. His possession numbers are similar. Giroux is also not a liability in the faceoff circle, as he currently sits top 5 in the league in that category after moving back to center briefly with Couturier’s injury. With the Flyers currently not a playoff contender this season (they could still sneak in to the playoff picture, but they are not considered a contender), the question becomes, what should the Flyers do long-term?
I think to make this call, the Flyers overall prospect pool needs to be observed, especially as they are still a “rebuilding” team on paper. Thankfully, the Flyers have a plethora of overall talent in their pool, but they are in fact deepest at center. Next season, they are likely to have Morgan Frost in the mix. Frost projects as a #2 center. He may not be ready to take on that role consistently next season, but the Flyers can hope that Nolan Patrick can take on higher responsibility as a regular #2 center.
Plus, the Flyers also have Vorobyev who made the team out of camp, but is currently working on his overall game in the minors. They also have German Rubtsov, who also projects as a potential #2 center. Rubtsov is out for the year with an injury, but there is always a chance that he could compete next season for a roster spot. Regardless, the Flyers are likely to have at minimum one NHL-ready prospect at center ready to be inserted in the lineup.
Prospects in Upcoming Draft
If the Flyers continue to struggle this season and find themselves in a lottery position, there are a handful of excellent centers available in this draft. This would begin with #1 ranked Jack Hughes. Hughes projects as a franchise center comparable to Buffalo star Jack Eichel. Kirby Dach and Dylan Cozens are both highly ranked top 10 players who can play center. Both would project to being almost, if not already NHL-ready as soon as next season. If the Flyers continue to fall, they could add another strong center candidate into the mix.
With this in mind, Giroux may likely be most successful in the long-term at the wing. With the Flyers future depth at this position, Giroux would be an excellent complement to any of these players. Giroux may also prolong his career playing long-term at this position. Patrick Marleau has seen his career prolonged because of this. Marleau is still producing in the NHL in his late thirties, partially because of a change in responsibility and move from center to wing years ago. He still produces and thrives offensively on deep teams. Giroux could see his career prolonged overall with a continued “less responsibility” position as a winger.
If the Flyers have the “long-term” in mind, keeping Girioux at wing seems to make the most sense. However, if they want to “win now,” moving him to center permanently is likely the best scenario. With a deep draft ahead, one should probably hope the Flyers keep the long-term in mind instead of the short term. It is likely what is best for both Giroux and the franchise as a whole going forward.