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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Flyers need new leader

Posted by Eric Fisher On December 20

The general manager was fired first.

Then the coach was sent packing on Monday.

Perhaps the Flyers need one more change in leadership.

During the Flyers’ disastrous road trip last week, which included an epic collapse in an overtime loss to the Flames and three spiritless losses to the Jets, Oilers and Canucks, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere spoke about how the team gets down as soon as one thing goes against them.

It’s been that way with the Flyers for a while. The team seems to have a fragile psyche. When something goes wrong, the Flyers lose their confidence. A snowball quickly becomes an avalanche.

Maybe it’s time to look at the leadership of this team. Perhaps the captain isn’t a good leader. At the very least, perhaps he isn’t the right leader for this team.

It may seem strange to point fingers at Claude Giroux. He has been the Flyers’ best player this season. Entering Thursday’s game against the Predators, Giroux has 11 goals and a team-leading 29 assists. His 40 points are 15 more than Jakub Voracek, the next-closest Flyer. Giroux has a plus-minus rating of plus-3 for a team that has been outscored by 22 goals.

Giroux’s production has been terrific, but, in his seventh year as captain, the Flyers have yet to win a playoff series. The failure to win a playoff series can’t all be laid at Giroux’s feet. Goaltending issues, a rebuilding plan and coaching are among the major factors that have contributed to the Flyers’ postseason drought.

But Scott Gordon is the fourth coach of Giroux’s tenure as captain. Giroux was captain for two seasons under Peter Laviolette, who has the Predators tied atop the Western Conference, then spent two seasons with Craig Berube as head coach before serving as captain during the three-plus seasons with Dave Hakstol behind the bench. When you add it all up, Giroux has served as captain for more seasons than anyone in Flyers history except Bob Clarke, the standard bearer for all Flyers leaders.

Think about that for a moment. Giroux has been captain longer than Dave Poulin. He’s been captain longer than Eric Lindros. He’s been captain twice as long as Mike Richards. What those guys all have in common is they were captains of teams that reached the Stanley Cup Finals. Poulin’s teams reached the finals twice. Giroux’s teams haven’t won a playoff series, so they’ve been light years away from reaching a final and winning a Stanley Cup.

This isn’t to suggest that Giroux is a bad guy. By all accounts, with the exception of one embarrassing incident in a Canadian bar, he’s a good guy. And he’s certainly a terrific player. But maybe he doesn’t have the right personality to be a good leader.

He certainly doesn’t seem to be able to calm things down when the Flyers encounter adversity. Maybe he’s too soft-spoken. Maybe he’s too nice a guy to chew people out, as a captain must do on occasion. But the results make it obvious that Giroux isn’t the type of leader the Flyers need.

The Flyers should strongly consider replacing Giroux as captain. If four-plus years were enough for Ron Hextall as general manager, and three-plus years were enough to decide that Hakstol couldn’t get the job done, then six-plus years should certainly be enough to conclude that Giroux isn’t an effective captain.

This situation has to be handled with kid gloves – or at least velvet gloves. Removing the “C” from Giroux’s jersey could have a devastating effect on a terrific player. It may hurt Giroux’s confidence. More importantly, it may make him feel as if the organization doesn’t have confidence in him. Telling Giroux the organization has confidence in him as a player but not as a captain is a fine line to walk.

The other issue is choosing a replacement. Voracek is in his eighth year with the Flyers. For much of that time, he has been riding shotgun for Giroux. Voracek would seem a little too much like more of the same. With a plus-minus rating of minus-12, the worst among all Flyers forwards, Voracek makes too many of the mistakes that general manager Chuck Fletcher appeared to be referring to when he spoke of a disconnect between what Hakstol was preaching and his players were doing on the ice.

Wayne Simmonds would be a popular choice as captain. He’s a tough guy who stands up for his teammates. But Simmonds, like Giroux, is 30 years old. More importantly, he could be an unrestricted free agent after this season. If the Flyers don’t plan to re-sign him, Simmonds could be moved at the trade deadline.

I would make Sean Couturier the captain. Although it seems as if he’s been around forever, Couturier just turned 26 years old earlier this month. He should have many good years ahead of him. Couturier is also a highly respected and inspiring player.

Who can forget the final two games of last season’s playoff series with the Penguins? Couturier scored a late goal in Game 5 to extend the series, and then registered a hat trick during a five-point night in Game 6 – having a role in every goal – as the Flyers dropped an 8-5 decision to the Penguins. As everyone found out after the series, Couturier excelled in those games despite playing with a torn MCL in his right knee, an injury that even hockey players usually need at least several weeks to recover from. Couturier only missed one game due the torn MCL and, with five goals and four assists in five games, was clearly the Flyers’ best player in the series.

The Flyers have changed leadership in the front office and behind the bench. It’s also time for them to make a change in leadership on the ice.

Giroux could be offered the opportunity to be assistant captain to ease the transition; however, after failing to win a playoff series during the second-longest reign as captain in Flyers history, it’s time for Giroux to step aside and let someone else wear the “C.”

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