Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography
With the Flyers struggling to find offensive depth over the past couple seasons, there has been a lot of debate about what should be done to help balance the lineup. As these struggles continued through the entirety of the 2014-15 season, many suggested that it was time to try playing Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on separate lines. Craig Berube gave it a brief try and it was a successful lineup possession-wise, but he put the two back together after scoring troubles continued. The new season has not yet put this debate to rest.
After Dave Hakstol strangely decided to play Jakub Voracek with a couple fourth line regulars last week, TSN’s Travis Yost fittingly asked What Are The Philadelphia Flyers Doing?. Yost used data from Giroux and Voracek’s time apart over the past four seasons to argue that the Flyers need the pair together to succeed. The data presented was convincing, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s take a look why.
[All data from this article was obtained either from Yost’s TSN piece or from Puckalytics.com]
ANALYZING THE ARGUMENT AGAINST SPLITTING THEM
The data used to argue against splitting Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek was simple and persuasive. In their time together since 2012, the duo has a 55.3 Corsi For Percentage (CF%). Apart, Voracek has a 50.6 CF% while Giroux has a 45.5 CF%. Their Goals For % suffers even more when apart. Both players are clearly at their best when playing with each other.
Here are some of the things that those numbers don’t tell you.
- During those years, Claude Giroux started 48.1% of his shifts without Voracek in the defensive zone. This is nearly double the 27.3% that he has seen with Voracek alongside him. Many of these faceoffs were probably key defensive zone draws that Giroux took alongside more defensive players because of his faceoff ability.
- It’s quite possible that after these extra defensive zone draws, Giroux heads back to the bench if the Flyers are able to recover the puck, staying on only if the opponent gains possession. Thus, the extra defensive zone draws are much more likely to hurt his possession numbers. This could go a long way towards explaining his lackluster numbers without Voracek, who has been his linemate for the majority of the past four seasons.
- We can’t forget the fact that before Jakub Voracek arrived in Philadelphia, Giroux posted a 51.8 CF% in almost 3,000 minutes without him. Claude Giroux does not need Jakub Voracek to succeed, and he definitely is not a 45% possession player without him.
- When apart from Giroux, Voracek has started 36.6% of his shifts in the defensive zone. It’s not a ridiculous number, but it’s still measurably more than that 27.3% that the pair has seen when together.
- Claude Giroux’s on ice shooting percentage is 5.94% without Voracek. That is unsustainably low for the career 8.3% performer. It definitely has a lot to do with his subpar goal numbers.
It’s no secret that Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are going to put up their best numbers together. That’s not even up for debate. What is up for debate is whether or not the team as a whole would benefit from playing them separately. The Flyers are a limited team when it comes to forward depth, and spreading out their two best forwards might help them to combat that problem.
WHO WOULD GIROUX AND VORACEK SUCCEED WITH?
It’s fairly obvious why Dave Hakstol’s ‘more balanced’ lineup doesn’t make any sense. Jakub Voracek doesn’t need Giroux, but he does need better linemates than Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde to maximize his value.
Luckily, the Flyers are in possession of a player who can benefit from centering Jakub Voracek without neutralizing his effectiveness. That player is Sean Couturier.
This pairing is simply a win-win. In their time together (apart from Giroux) since 2012, Couturier’s CF% has climbed from 49.1 to 53.2. Meanwhile, Voracek’s 54.3 only drops about one percent despite a significant drop in OZSt%. This would give Couturier the speedy, playmaking winger that he needs to take the next step offensively. It gives Voracek a defensively capable center and a chance to start more shifts in the defensive zone, helping to maximize his transition play talent. It just makes sense.
As far as Giroux goes, there is still more than enough talent on the roster to keep him from going to waste. It’s not quite as clear cut as it is with Voracek and Couturier, but there are several possibilities for Giroux’s linemates. Any combination of Michael Raffl, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and possibly Matt Read would be available for Giroux’s wings.
- In a small sample of 104:00, a line of Raffl, Giroux and Simmonds posted a 57.0 CF% playing in mostly offensive minutes.
- A line of Raffl, Giroux and Schenn posted a 50.0 CF% in 47:00.
- A line of Schenn, Giroux and Simmonds posted a 57.6 CF% in 49:52 despite an OZSt% of just 31.0.
Claude Giroux is a talented two-way player, but his possession impact has been mostly on the offensive side for the past few seasons. Giving a Voracek/Couturier line more defensive assignments would allow Giroux to see more offensive zone time, helping to maximize his offensive impact. Primarily offensive players like Schenn and Simmonds will also benefit from playing more sheltered minutes. Once again, it works for all parties involved while making the Flyers a tougher team to play against.
I’m not saying that splitting Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek is undoubtedly the best move for the Flyers. Even if it is, I doubt that it would make them a significantly better team. However, the case against splitting them is not as straight forward as it might seem. A team that lacks depth but also has elite talent up front really needs to make the most of that talent. While Giroux and Voracek’s individual production numbers might take a hit, the Flyers as a whole could benefit from splitting them up.