Nearing 30, Claude Giroux reflects on his hectic decade

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Nearing 30, Claude Giroux reflects on his hectic decade

"Oh, Jesus!"

That was Claude Giroux's initial thought when I brought up the inevitability of his turning 30 this Friday. While teammates were jet-setting to the tropics during the bye week, Giroux is simply spending time with friends and family outside of Ottawa.

"If we stay at home and watch a movie, that's pretty good, too," said Giroux, who didn't envision any elaborate birthday plans. 

Certainly, age is just a number for a guy who has done nothing but put up big numbers since entering the NHL just 38 days after his 20th birthday.

"I always say you're as old as you feel, and I feel pretty good right now," Giroux said. "Time flies by to know that I've been in the league for 10 years. It's pretty crazy to think, but a lot of good things are in the future."

He can focus on the future now that he's buried the past this season.

Just a year ago, Giroux may have felt as if he was pushing 40 coming off a corrective core muscle procedure to his hip and abdomen areas that general manager Ron Hextall labeled a "maintenance surgery." Clearly, it was much more as Giroux struggled to be the dominant player he was in previous seasons. That burst of speed was missing and his confidence wasn't too far behind.

Admittedly, since the first day back in Voorhees, New Jersey, this past September, Giroux's been inspired and motivated to prove that the guy preparing to enter his 30s could be just as dominant as the player who brought a degree of wizardry to South Broad in his early-20s.

Throughout his first five years in the league, Giroux dazzled with dekes, toe drags and other shootout moves he perfected on the frozen pond of Northern Ontario. He played with a nasty edge, laying vicious checks to guys 15 and 20 pounds heavier than he was.

"It's the motivation to go out there and play and not think," Giroux said. "It's a lot different now. You have to really prepare more. You've got to take care of your body more. I've learned a lot and I've been able to take those life lessons and just grow with that."

He scored a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final at the age of 22, led the Flyers in scoring for the first time at 23 and was named the 19th team captain in franchise history, taking over for the injured Chris Pronger, just three days after his 25th birthday. For most players, that's a pretty distinguished career, but for Giroux, he was just getting started. 

Three months later came "The Shift," when he approached then-head coach Peter Laviolette and asked to take that opening shift in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Penguins. After laying out Sidney Crosby with an open-ice hit, Giroux proceeded to score the first goal of the game and later earned Laviolette's label as "the best player in the world."

"There's a lot I wish I would have known when I was 20, but when I was 20, I was lucky enough to have a coach and teammates to show me the way and help me be a player that I can be today," Giroux said. "I've learned a lot in those 10 years. I don't know if I'd change a lot in those 10 years."     

And why would he? If Giroux hasn't been the world's best player, he's come pretty close. Since 2010-11, only Crosby and Patrick Kane have scored more points. 

If the 20s can be considered a time of self-discovery, then the following decade is a period of refinement as Giroux will learn even more about himself as he grows older. Now engaged, he's planning to marry his fiancee Ryanne Breton this summer.

"It's crazy to think how young I was. I've got a lot of memories here in Philadelphia, not just on the ice but off the ice," Giroux said. "Hopefully, I've got 10 more years here."

And 10 more years to fulfill what has been a life-long commitment.

"Obviously when you do something in life, you want to be the best you can be," Giroux said. "I've dreamed since I was a little kid to win the Stanley Cup. Not being able to do that, that's my biggest motivation in hockey. I've got to take everything that I've learned and bring it to my game and get closer to my dream."

Wayne Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

Wayne Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

VOORHEES, N.J. — There were so many, Wayne Simmonds even lost track.

"I actually forgot about that one," he said with a laugh.

The Flyers' power forward was referring to the torn ligament in his thumb, the lone injury to declare victory with Simmonds this season.

And don't think he didn't have his battles.

As Simmonds sat down at his end-of-the-season press conference Wednesday, the list of injuries could have unrolled from his chair and out the door.

With some picking and prodding, one by one he ran them off.

In total?

A tear in his pelvic area, fractured ankle, pulled groin, busted mouth (twice) and the torn ligament in his thumb.

Simmonds missed only seven games in 2017-18, with the thumb finally dragging the unbreakable man off the ice.

Call him crazy, call him naïve, but don't question his dedication or toughness.

"I think for me, I don't know if it's the right thing, but I can't not play," Simmonds said. "It's just geared in my head to where if I'm not dead or I'm not deathly sick, I'm going to try and get out there and do whatever I can. Whether the coach is going to play me, or whatever minutes he wanted to play me, that was up to him. I'm definitely going to sacrifice my body for the team, that's for sure."

The trigger to the mess came well before his season-opening hat trick. Simmonds' pelvic tear was diagnosed in training camp, an injury he believes was suffered prior to report day.

"But I had no idea," Simmonds said. "You start doing all the skate testing and everything like that, and you find out pretty quickly."

The 29-year-old, coming off back-to-back 30-plus-goal seasons, was then faced with a dilemma. Surgery to repair the tear was an option, but that meant missing a month to a month and a half of action.

"It wasn't something I wanted to do," Simmonds said. "I thought I'd be able to play through it and do a decently good job. I didn't play up to my expectations this year. It was a very frustrating year. Things didn't go the way I wanted but if I can play, I'm going to play."

The decision boiled down to something pretty simple.

"They showed me the MRI and I was like, 'Can I play?'" Simmonds said. "Yeah, I can play."

The problem was the injury brought side effects.

"Having that, that leaves other things," Simmonds said. "Your body is overcompensating and other stuff starts breaking down. It wasn't good."

Because of it, Simmonds said he then pulled his groin in October before fracturing his ankle not long after following a power-play shot to the foot.

"It kind of just broke," Simmonds said. "It wasn't a weight-bearing bone, so you're still able to play with that."

However, he wasn't able to play from Feb. 20 to March 4. He also underwent serious dental work in February.

In all, it sounded like hell.

"When everything's piling on top of one another, it sucks," he said.

Simmonds finished the regular season with 24 goals, 22 assists and a minus-16 rating in 75 games. During the first-round playoff exit to the Penguins, he had two assists in six games.

He seldom looked like himself.

"That was the biggest thing. It didn't allow me to have the power I usually have," Simmonds said. "It was extremely frustrating. Obviously you want to be able to do something and you're able to do it usually, and then your brain is telling your body to do it and your body's not doing it."

Simmonds, who said surgery on his pelvis is likely, now faces an offseason in which he's eligible for an extension starting July 1 ahead of his 2018-19 contract year.

"I know this year wasn't ideal for me and they probably didn't see from me what was required for an extension," Simmonds said. "This is definitely where I want to be.

"This is where I want to be for the rest of my career."

Banged up or not.

Flyers’ goaltending grades and outlook for next season

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Flyers’ goaltending grades and outlook for next season

Over the next three days, we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. First up, goaltending: 

Brian Elliott

Regular Season:
(23-11-7, 2.66 GAA, .909 save percentage)

Playoffs: C- 
(1-3, 4.74 GAA, .856 save percentage)

Elliott seized the starting job at the beginning of the season and helped pull the team out of the depths of a 10-game winless streak. His quality start percentage of .476 was below league average, but he was solid in games when given a lead until he suffered a core muscle injury that required surgery in February. Dave Hakstol pulled “Moose” in two of the four playoff games he started in the playoffs.

Elliott admitted he needed to tear up the scar tissue once he resumed hockey activities to gain a full range of motion. A month ago, the pain was so unbearable it prevented him from putting on shoes and socks. He certainly wasn’t healthy in the six games he played in April, which contributed to his poor play and he’s still dealing with issues. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Philadelphia and expects to be 100 percent by training camp.

2018-19 outlook: Elliott has one year remaining on the two-year deal he signed in the summer of 2017 and will enter 2018-19 as the Flyers’ starting goaltender as long as he’s healthy.  

Michal Neuvirth

Regular Season: B- 
(9-7-3, 2.60 GAA, .915 save percentage)

(1-1, 4.40 GAA, .847 save percentage)

How unreliable was Neuvirth this season? At no point did Neuvirth start three consecutive games as he was plagued with a multitude of injuries. Had the Flyers won Sunday, Game 7 would have been the first time. Neuvirth was solid in the Flyers’ Game 5 victory in Pittsburgh, but he wouldn’t have overcome the Flyers' defensive breakdowns over the course of an entire series.   

Neuvirth will have arthroscopic surgery on both hips and his injury frequency has now led him to hire sports performance trainer Adam Francilia, Neuvirth's third different trainer over the past three years. Francilia has been instrumental in the offseason conditioning of goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck and Devan Dubnyk. “It’s going to be hard for my family,” Neuvirth said. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Kelowna, British Columbia. 

2018-19 outlook: Like Elliott, Neuvirth is signed through next season and will likely start the season as Elliott’s backup. However, if the Flyers feel Neuvirth’s injury risk is too high, they may be more inclined to trade Neuvirth and bring in someone more reliable.

Petr Mrazek

Regular Season: C-
(14-13-6, 3.03 GAA, .902 save percentage)

Playoffs: No grade
(1 GP, 3.87 GAA, .857 save percentage)

With three wins in his first three starts, Ron Hextall appeared to have engineered one of the great goaltending heists in Flyers history. However, reality set in and Mrazek’s game quickly tanked. In his final 13 regular starts, Mrazek allowed three or more goals in all but two of those games and was he pulled in the second period in one of those two. His only playoff action came in relief of Elliott in Game 1.

While Mrazek stated in his exit interview he was able to show teams what he could do once he got a chance to play, he ultimately cost himself millions of dollars by slumping in March.

2018-19 outlook: Mrazek is a restricted free agent and the Flyers can qualify him at 105 percent of his $4 million salary for next season. No way that happens, so the Flyers can attempt to trade Mrazek to a team that will qualify him or he will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. 

Alex Lyon

Regular Season: B-
(4-2-1, 2.75 GAA, .905 save percentage)

Playoffs: No grade

With injuries to Elliott and Neuvirth, Lyon provided stability during a stormy period when the Flyers’ season could have gone off the rails. He earned his first win in relief on Neuvirth at Madison Square Garden, and for whatever reason, Lyon had considerably better numbers coming off the bench. He had a tendency of lunging for pucks and he looked unsettling at times, but still found a way to get the job done.  

2018-19 outlook: Lyon is the Phantoms’ starter in the AHL playoffs, but with the addition of Carter Hart next season and the impending health of Anthony Stolarz, there’s a chance Lyon could be third on the depth chart as the Flyers could have a rare surplus in goaltending at the minor league level. Don’t be surprised if Lyon is traded this summer to a team that may view him as an NHL backup or an AHL starter.