Claude Giroux held the keys, contractually and justifiably.
He earned every right to be the driver.
The destination turned out to be Florida as the Flyers traded Giroux to the Panthers on Saturday night. In return for the 15-year Flyer and beloved captain, the club received winger Owen Tippett, a conditional 2024 first-round pick and a 2023 third-round pick. Along with Giroux, the Flyers included Connor Bunnaman and German Rubtsov in the deal, while sending a 2024 fifth-round pick and retaining 50 percent of the average annual value on Giroux's contract.
More: After 15 years, the Giroux era ends as Flyers trade captain
Giroux is in the final year of his eight-year, $66.2 million contract, which had a no-movement clause. He could have said no to a trade, comfortably played out his final season in Philadelphia and then hit the unrestricted free agent market during the summer.
Had he gone elsewhere then, the Flyers would have gotten nothing in return for one of their best players in franchise history. Their 2021-22 season has gone the opposite of planned, falling severely short of expectations, so this was the reality — a position of trading Giroux instead of having him be a part of a playoff drive.
"Any day that you trade your captain is a tough day, and with how much Claude has meant to this organization and how he has represented himself for 15 years, makes it all that more difficult to say goodbye," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement released by the team. "Claude is one of the best players to ever wear a Flyer uniform."
More: Fitting farewell? With trade deadline looming, Giroux, Flyers have special night
With it being Giroux, Flyers fans may look at the trade on paper and feel highly underwhelmed by the return. And that's fair. Everyone can judge the deal how they please. But the fact is Giroux had a no-move clause, is 34 years old and viewed as a rental because of his pending UFA status. A team trading for Giroux is getting an illustrious player still performing at a high level, but potentially for only a month-plus and a postseason run.
"Claude has been one of the most complete talents in the National Hockey League for over a decade," Panthers general manager Bill Zito said in a statement released by the team. "He has demonstrated his elite leadership and work ethic during his tenure in Philadelphia and we are thrilled to be able to welcome a player of his caliber to our lineup."
According to a report by Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli, Giroux informed the Flyers he would only accept a trade to the Panthers.
Florida is a bona-fide Stanley Cup contender with depth and its best players in their primes. It did not have a first-round pick in 2022 or 2023 to offer the Flyers.
Tippett is a 23-year-old, power forward type who was drafted 10th overall in 2017.
"We're very excited to have Owen join our team," Fletcher said in the release by the Flyers. "He is a young forward who already has NHL experience and will bring power, speed and skill to our group. He is someone we expect to fit into our lineup immediately."
Tippett has 14 goals and 19 assists in 94 NHL games. One of those goals came against the Flyers this season back in October at the Wells Fargo Center.
"I'm really excited for this new opportunity to join a team, build with them and get a fresh start," Tippett said in the release by the Flyers. "I'm still working on trying to round out my 200-foot game, but overall I think I can bring offense, size and speed to the lineup. I'm really excited to get going and meet everyone."
The Flyers were hoping that trading Giroux would never be a thought, that their 2021-22 season would meet expectations and the future would be a discussion for later.
That didn't happen and this was the reality.
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