Flyers

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."

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Boruk
There are three ways to look at this …

1. The Flyers re-sign Wayne Simmonds, who's eligible for an extension that would take effect in 2019-20.

2. Ron Hextall inks one of his restricted free agents to a team-friendly, lengthy multi-year deal.

3. The Flyers go big in free agency next summer. 

Let’s start with the latter. There are some interesting names that are headlining next summer’s potential UFA class: Tyler Seguin, Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. 

Who knows which of these players will be re-signed or traded, but I don’t see the Flyers paying big dollars to add another forward now that you include James van Riemsdyk. According to Spotrac.com, the Flyers have $46.5 million (fourth highest in the NHL) committed to forwards, with Travis Konecny due for a pay raise next summer, as well.

With that knowledge, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Flyers to extend Simmonds another four to five years with an AAV of $6-7 million. Hextall has a good barometer of what Simmonds is worth on the open market, which is why term would be the sticking point in negotiations. If he’s willing to look at a three-year deal, it could get done soon, but if I’m Simmonds' agent, I’m trying to maximize the length of any new contract, which very well could be the last one his client signs.

I think the next big contract will be signed by defenseman Ivan Provorov, who’s entering the final year of his entry-level deal. It’s not out of the financial realm to think Provorov could sign a Drew Doughty-type bridge deal similar to the eight-year, $56 million pact the Kings' defenseman signed in 2011 at the age of 21. Doughty was coming off a monstrous 16-goal, 59-point season. Last season, Provorov ripped off 17 goals and 41 points and appears poised to build on that for this upcoming season.

Prepare yourself. Provorov will receive the next big pay day in Philadelphia.

Dougherty
Outside of teaching the Sixers and Phillies how to close a deal, Hextall's only item left on his offseason to-do list is to re-sign restricted free agent Robert Hagg.

During his end-of-season-news conference in April, Hextall said "initially, my thought right now is that we would be open to either long term or short term" with Hagg.

Whether Hagg qualifies as a "big signing" isn't really up for debate. It's not. Hagg is a quality third pair defenseman in the NHL and he proved as much in his rookie season.

But re-signing Hagg is the only move left I envision Hextall making this summer, or at the very least, the next move. A Provorov or Simmonds extension remains possible too.

As Hextall mentioned, the Flyers are open to either a short or long-term deal with Hagg. Both have their upside. That is also likely the holdup right now.

While Hagg wouldn't qualify as a "big" signing, he is next on the checklist. Once his contract is out of the way, then I could see the Flyers knocking out Provorov or Simmonds.

Hall
Hextall tends to get ahead and take care of his own.

When you look at the track record, he's not one to let contract decisions linger, especially when it comes to his core pieces — which makes for good business.

Just like in any profession, stability and happiness are important.

The Flyers' general manager extended Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier the summer prior to their contract years. 

He signed Shayne Gostisbehere, a restricted free agent last summer, in early June before the expansion draft and free agency opened. 

He even signed Michael Raffl in February 2016 before the role forward was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

With all that said, my gut tells me Hextall's next big move is extending Simmonds at some point before the start of the season. Simmonds, coming off an injury-ravaged year in which he still managed to score 24 goals, can hit unrestricted free agency following the 2018-19 season. He wants to be back and Hextall values him greatly.

And the GM made it clear that when the Flyers signed van Riemsdyk to a five-year deal, it meant nothing to their situation with Simmonds.

"We like Wayne Simmonds," Hextall said July 1. "This doesn't change anything for Wayne. This is a left winger; this is a different player than Simmer. We're excited to have James, and certainly, we would like to have Simmer for a long time, too."

I expect that to be the next major check on the agenda.

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Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Ron Hextall knows how these things can work out.

He remembers plucking Oskar Lindblom in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL draft. Not much was made of the pick, barely even a peep, because, well, the 138th overall selections don't typically draw heaps of praise.

Lindblom quietly slipped back to Sweden. Three summers later, Flyers fans couldn't stop talking about him.

"Oskar went away, no one knew who the hell he was, fifth-round pick, over there getting better and better and better and bang," Hextall said last July. "He's the SHL Forward of the Year."

One has to believe Lindblom's name popped in the general manager's head when the Flyers saw Marcus Westfalt still available and the clock ticking on their 2018 seventh-round pick. At 205th overall, Westfalt became the Flyers' final selection, making for eerie similarities to Lindblom, who forced his way to the big club in 2017-18.

Westfalt plays for the same Swedish junior team (Brynäs IF J20) and SHL squad (Brynäs IF) as Lindblom did when he was taken by the Flyers. Both prospects are from Sweden and dropped in their respective drafts. Lindblom, a left winger, stands 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, while Westfalt, a center/left winger, comes in at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds.

Another Lindblom in the works?

"Hopefully, that's my dream, of course," Westfalt said three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "But he's a really good player, he's got a lot of skill. But, yeah, hopefully."

The 18-year-old was well aware of Lindblom. It was hard to not hear or see his fellow countryman transform from fifth-round pick to ballyhooed Flyers prospect. In 2016-17, when Lindblom really took off with Brynäs IF and won Swedish Hockey League Forward of the Year, Westfalt witnessed the rise.

"I watch him a lot," Westfalt said. "His last year in Brynäs before he got here, I watched him a lot. He's a [role model] because I think he's really good, he's good with his hands, his speed, he uses his body well. I watch him a lot."

In his draft year, Lindblom played only four SHL games compared to 43 for Brynäs IF J20. For Westfalt, it was a bit different. He appeared in 39 SHL games, including playoffs, while playing 26 contests at the junior ranks, where he put up 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) and a plus-19 rating.

Westfalt's goal for 2018-19 is to play the whole season in the SHL. Lindblom did a bit later than Westfalt, but once the jump was made, he impacted games.

"Try to get more ice time," Westfalt said. "Bigger role in the game.

"[Brynäs IF] told me that I have some things I need to work on and if I do that, I can get to play."

Westfalt, who had four points (one goal, three assists) in those 39 SHL games, said he tries to be "a smart, two-way centerman," and feels his "play in the D-zone is better than the offense."

"I'm strong without the puck and with the puck," he said.

While the goal is to stick in the SHL, he's uncertain which level will be best for his on-ice growth at this stage of his development."

"When I play in junior, I get more ice time, I get to play a lot more with the puck, I get to play the power play and stuff like that," he said. "I want to play in the juniors, too, because I want to work on my skills, but my big goal is to do the same thing I do in the juniors in the SHL."

Lindblom eventually did, carving out his path to the Flyers at 21 years old.

"I just think about it by myself, like fifth-rounder, I just felt like I can play and I can be on this level," Lindblom said last summer.

With Westfalt, there is no chip on his shoulder as a seventh-round pick.

"No, for me, I'm just glad that I'm here," he said. "It's a great organization. It's fun to go earlier [in the draft], but I'm just happy to be here."

And eager to climb like Lindblom.

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