Is Claude Giroux the best player in the world?
Missing Cup undermining Giroux in ‘best’ conversation?
When Team Canada last appointed an Olympic hockey team, Claude Giroux was one of its final cuts.
When Team Canada last iced a World Cup hockey team, Claude Giroux was largely relegated to alternate status.
When the Flyers commence yet another “growth” season Friday night in Los Angeles, Claude Giroux will again be compared to that rising young star who on an April Sunday in 2012 planted Sidney Crosby with a body check five seconds into a Game 6, then 27 seconds later gathered a loose puck and rifled it home for a goal that turned around a series and set the stage for the elimination of Crosby and the Penguins.
It was that day that Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette spoke of Giroux’s demanding request to start the game at center, and said, “When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, ‘I don’t know who you’re planning on starting tonight, but I want that first shift,’ that says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there.”
What Laviolette unintentionally had created in that one response was Claude Giroux’s label, written in permanent ink, yet still so prone to fading in the wash.
The best player in the world?
“I never really thought about it,” Giroux said this week. “The media just jumped on that one pretty hard, and the fans talked about it. But personally, I didn’t really look at it that way. There’s a lot of really good players out there, so it’s not something where I rank myself.”
He could if he’d so choose, of course. Statistically, an argument could be made for that accidental assessment of Giroux from 4½ years and two head coach firings ago.
For over the past five seasons, none other than Claude Giroux has scored the most points in the NHL. Asked if he knew that, Giroux paused with a slight smile and said, “I do now, I guess, yeah.
“It’s all about being healthy,” he quickly added. “If you’re not healthy, it’s going to hurt you (numbers wise). I’ve been lucky enough, knock on wood, to play healthy.”
Giroux’s 367 points (116 goals, 251 assists) ranks one digit ahead of that Crosby guy and seven points ahead of Chicago’s Patrick Kane.
Only a 15-month gap in age separates the three of them, the 28-year-old Giroux being the middle hockey child.
Two of them are captains, though Kane isn’t only because he has the league’s best on-ice leader in Jonathan Toews by his side.
None are particularly
physical, but certainly can hold their own with their edginess. All are considered to be elite skill players, though perhaps with better-rounded games than the older (31) and purer goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin.
Yet between Crosby, Giroux and Kane there is one major difference ... those other two guys have won Stanley Cups.
There seems to be no question how that has impacted the way that not only Team Canada’s decision-makers, but the hockey world in general assesses Claude Giroux now, and how knowing that makes him burn within. Something to prove then? “Yeah, we do,” Giroux said. “We don’t want to be seen as a team that only was happy to make the playoffs. As a team and as for all the guys in here, we just want more. We want to go as far as we can and mainly our goal is to win the Stanley Cup.”
Getting there probably has something more to do with the depth of a player’s team than the depth of his talents.
When Giroux had his statement game against Crosby and the Penguins in that first round of the 2012 playoffs, he was coming off a 93-point season. His 28 goals were indicative of how good a playmaker that old guy on his right wing by the name of Jaromir Jagr could still be, and his 65 assists helped feed a career-high 37-goal season by the burly, wild-haired guy to his left, Scott Hartnell.
Together, they were one of the league’s most balanced lines and fueled a
feared power play that would register a leaguebest 66 power play goals. But after being dispatched by New Jersey in the second round of the playoffs, it would fall apart quickly.
Jagr’s demand for a new contract in the $4 million per year range was ignored by a somewhat incredulous Flyers executive team that couldn’t see paying such money to a 40-yearold. Jagr promptly jumped on a 1-year, $4.5 million free agency offer by Dallas. Now, at 44, he’s one of the scoring leaders for a Florida Panthers team expected to be a serious player in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season.
Jagr’s exit four years ago had a clear impact on Giroux, who had tutored by the Magnificent Mullet’s side and thrived next to him on the ice. The dropoff in production was only slight, but Giroux struggled to find consistency with linemates. He finally seemed to click in rather spectacular fashion with Jake Voracek two years ago, but Hartnell had tailed off and was traded. The Flyers missed the playoffs in 2015, and Voracek had a terribly slow start to 2015-2016, even though new coach Dave Hakstol had finally sacrificed depth in a brief attempt to form a knockout first line of Giroux-Voracek-Wayne Simmonds. It simply didn’t work. Now Giroux will start another season with linemate Braydon Schenn suspended for three games, and Simmonds and Michael Raffl by his side. Either way, Giroux came off that World Cup of Hockey experience
outwardly proud of Team Canada’s championship, but undeniably disappointed he couldn’t have played a bigger hand in the process, playing just one game during the actual tournament.
His attention turned quickly to the Flyers, however, and in his short time in camp he has exhibited only confidence and sharp play on the ice.
“I see a real kind of calm, focused fire in him,” Hakstol said of Giroux. “What the motivation is, I won’t speculate on that, but what I see is a real calm, fiery, motivated player.”
It remains to be seen when Schenn returns how that first line will shake out, though a rebuilt blue line anchored by exciting young players Shayne Gostisbehere and junior grad Ivan Provorov, and an installation of forward speed with fellow junior grad Travis Konecny should translate into a better balanced, faster and deeper Flyers team.
No matter how improved they look on paper, how far they can go will be a months-long matter of debate, and will come with the knowledge that core forwards, Giroux, Voracek and Simmonds are moving rapidly through their prime years. As Giroux enters his ninth season, his demeanor might be calm, but that inner fire might be flaring more urgently than it once did.
“We know it’s a process,” he said. “We know it’s not going to happen overnight. But we’re putting in the work and over the last three years I think we’ve learned a lot.”
Claude Giroux has scored the most points than anyone in the NHL in the last five years, but is not mentioned in the best player of the league conversation.
Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek (93) celebrates his goal with teammates Shayne Gostisbehere (53), Claude Giroux (28) and Wayne Simmonds (17) against the New York Rangers last Thursday.