If you dreamt big, the return was certainly underwhelming.
Visions of multiple high draft picks, “NHL-ready players” and highly touted prospects were on the minds of Flyers fans as Claude Giroux’s last few days in Philadelphia leaked through the hourglass.
In some way, it was supposed to be some sort of reward for hanging in there during a dreadful hockey season that still has about 20 games to go.
The return for the second-highest scorer in Flyers history was prospect Owen Tippett, a 2024 first-round draft pick and a 2023 third-round pick from the Florida Panthers. The Flyers, in addition to retaining half of Giroux’s salary for the remainder of the year, also sent Connor Bunnaman and German Rubstov to South Florida along with a fifth-round pick in 2024.
At a short glance, it looks like the Flyers got robbed when you think of the immense value Giroux held in the minds of much of the fanbase here. But if you consider the circumstances, the Flyers did OK in the swap.
If you’re familiar with the term “leverage,” the Flyers had none of it. Giroux’s no-movement clause didn’t give general manager Chuck Fletcher any power when it came to wielding a deal. Giroux wanted to go to Florida and everyone knew it, including Panthers GM Bill Zito.
Sure, the Flyers did Giroux a solid by dealing him to the destination he desired, but they really didn’t have much of a choice. If Florida really wanted to play hardball, it probably wouldn’t have even offered a first-rounder.
What was Fletcher’s other option? Let Giroux sit the rest of the year and let him walk for nothing this summer? Just to prove a point?
The Flyers are in no position to do that. Since Giroux could have nixed a trade to anywhere else, Fletcher had only the Panthers as a dance partner in an empty gymnasium.
We’ve been critical of Fletcher in this space before, but the fact is Fletcher isn’t the one who gave Giroux trade protection and all the cards in a high-stakes poker game, he just tried to make the most out of a bad situation.
Maybe Owen Tippett will become a good NHL player. He’s a former first-round pick (10th overall in 2017) and recorded 33 points in 94 NHL games in the Panthers’ organization. He’s only 23 and is a pending restricted free agent who shouldn’t cost a ton on some type of bridge deal this summer. The 2024 first-round pick isn’t ideal for a team that management believes can turn its fortunes quickly. But a first-round pick is always an asset. Who knows how good the Panthers will be in two years. It might even turn out to be a lottery pick.
Another way to ease the blow of losing a franchise player is to put yourself in Florida’s shoes. The complaint seems to be that the Flyers got a small return for a guy who scored 900 points in a Flyers uniform. Those 900 points mean absolutely nothing to the Panthers. They only care about Giroux’s contributions over the next 20 games in a Panthers uniform and what, for them, is hopefully a long playoff run. That’s it. In Florida’s eyes, they got a 34-year-old player on an expiring contract who is on the back nine of his career. They gave up a former first-rounder who has had trouble cracking a deep NHL lineup and a future first-rounder.
In looking at the other parts of the deal, retaining half of Giroux’s salary is a non-factor. The contract expires this summer and will have no effect moving forward. Bunnaman and Rubstov likely didn’t have a future in Philadelphia. Bunnaman was a former fourth-round pick and likely reached his ceiling as a fourth-line grinder. As they say in the business, a dime-a-dozen player. The patience with Rubstov had clearly worn thin as he was unable to crack a lineup that showcased Max Willman and Patrick Brown most of the year.
The Flyers were decimated with injuries and Rubstov’s name was buried on the depth charts. He’s one of only two players from the first round of the 2016 Draft who has not scored an NHL goal.
Maybe both go on to contribute in Florida or somewhere else. Maybe the Panthers win a Stanley Cup. This shouldn’t be the Flyers’ or Chuck Fletcher’s concern. They did the best they could given the circumstances. ••