Lost in the speculation of what the ever-active Flyers organization was going to add to their team to make a return to the playoffs after their disappointing, lockout shortened 2013 season was the future status of team captain and first line center Claude Giroux. For the past three seasons, Giroux has been playing out a very favorable three-year deal that brought with it a $3.75 million cap hit. To say that the marquee player for the Flyers organization has outperformed that deal is about as large an understatement as you could come up with.
While Giroux was not slated to hit free agency until after the 2013-2014 season, with the team’s propensity to push the tempo in the free agency market and make bold moves (such as the Shea Weber offer sheet of last season) one could not imagine the interest level Giroux would garner if the unthinkable had happened and he hit the open market. Looking at the bounty that the Dallas Stars shipped up to Boston in exchange for a much less-proven, albeit similarly talented center in Tyler Seguin gives some perspective on what lengths a team will go for to add a top-line center to their team. Fortunately for the Flyers, their fans, and, quite honestly, the rest of the NHL, the team opened up their checkbook and locked up their captain for the foreseeable future with a hefty extension.
An update on Giroux deal I tweeted about earlier today… It’s finalized now: 8 years, $66.2 M _ $8.275 M AAV. Includes full NMC
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) July 5, 2013
By signing Giroux to this extension, along with a full no-movement clause, the expectation is that Giroux will spend the entirety of the prime of his career donning the Orange and Black. While skeptics will look at this deal and immediately think back to the mammoth deals signed by Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, those who follow the day-in, day-out happenings with the team can see the differences between the situations. While it is true that Carter and Richards have both played key roles on the Los Angeles Kings rise to a premiere team in the NHL, neither possesses the sort of all-encompassing, highly advanced skill set that Giroux does. In addition, Giroux, who at the age of 25 is routinely brought up in conversations regarding the top tier talents in the NHL, has not had to deal with stories of off-ice distractions and locker room squabbles like Richards and Carter did. There is little doubt within the Flyers locker room, one full of high-end young talent and seasoned veteran figures, who the pulse of the team is and the support shown for Giroux by his teammates tells you all you need to know about the deal.
With any questions regarding his future put to rest, Giroux must shift his focus toward learning from the struggles of his first season as captain and understanding how he best serves his team in his crucial role. Giroux seems like the type of player who puts more pressure on himself rather than allowing the pressure of a monster contract or huge playoff series affect him. In his short career, Giroux has turned in some of his most dazzling performances on the largest of stages and has parlayed his prime-time success into what many think is just the beginning of a memorable career. However, Giroux, who perhaps more than any Flyer in recent memory wears his fierce passion for the game on his sleeves, must continue to transition from little-known talent to the focal point of every opponent slated to play the Flyers. As the captain of a team who has put a great deal of stock in its future on the hopes that its young core will progress on the fly, Giroux must continue to learn how to lead by example as well as maintain stability in a locker room that, as we’ve seen the past two seasons, will be faced with major swings in morale.
While we all remember how excited we were when Giroux put a stamp on his status as an elite player when he went toe-to-toe with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in the 2012 playoffs, there were times last season where it appeared as if the pressure of wearing the ‘C’ on his sweater was getting to the young superstar. While as a young player, Giroux’s fiery style of play and propensity to mix it up in all situations endeared him to the Flyers’ faithful, he also had veteran leaders to reel him in and keep him even-keeled when his play became to reckless. As the captain, it is Giroux’s responsibility to monitor his own play while serving as the guiding force for a team who seems more than willing to follow. There were several occasions last season where, after a mistake that cost his team on the scoreboard, Giroux showed the sort of frustration and pettiness more indicative of a player in his first or second year of the league. While no one expected the Flyers to struggle like they did last year, one could argue that a calmer approach by the team captain could have helped the team during some of the low points of the season.
With all of that said, I think Giroux’s first year as captain will prove to be the type of valuable experience necessary for a young team trying to grow as men with the ultimate goal in mind: winning a Stanley Cup. There is no doubt that the Flyers have undergone a massive makeover over the past four years. Following their Stanley Cup run in 2010, the team has jettisoned, or lost the services of almost every key figure that helped along the way. While the loss of Chris Pronger was a major wrench thrown into the team’s plans, the collective youth of the team’s core has their long-term prospects for sustained success looking up. The Chicago Blackhawks have shown that, with the right amount of patience and nurturing with a talented group of young players, it is worth going through the growing pains while the team learns how to win. By focusing their resources on the development of this young core, the organization is banking on the idea that they will be united in their pursuit of a championship, and not fall victim to the potential pitfalls of fielding a roster of varying ages, personalities, and motivations. As difficult as it may be to have to wait for a core of players to develop, past failures of the team constantly moving their young players for veterans shows the value in demonstrating a bit of patience.
For this concept to work, it is up to Giroux to set the tone on the ice, in the locker room, in the film room, and serve as the team’s intermediary between the press, the fans, and the franchise. Looking at the past five Stanley Cup Champions: Chicago (2x), Los Angeles, Boston, and Pittsburgh, Giroux should have a pretty good idea of what it means to be the captain of a championship team. These players all experienced the highs and lows that come with the grind of making a Stanley Cup run. It is a process that usually takes place over more than one season and it is up to the captain to keep the locker room’s energy focused on doing whatever it takes to reach the top. He must be the rock that answers the questions when the team is in a funk and must serve as the humbling influence on the team when things are going well.