Is Claude Giroux the best player in the world?

Miss­ing Cup un­der­min­ing Giroux in ‘best’ con­ver­sa­tion?

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rob Par­ent rpar­ent@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Reluc­tan­tSE on Twit­ter

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.”

GENE J. PUSKAR — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

FRANK FRANKLIN II — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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