Four-for-Four: The Claude Giroux Is Better Than You Edition

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Jan 14, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (28) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia has a unique relationship with its star athletes. When the player, regardless of the sport, is supposed to do well, it is often impossible for him to reach expectations (see: Donovan McNabb, Eric Lindros). Yet when one of our beloved sports teams stumbles upon a hidden gem of a player that flashes stardom, we are so quick to anoint him as the unexpected savior that was discovered out of nowhere to deliver a championship we so desire. For a good chunk of his career, there was no better instance of that than Flyers forward Claude Giroux.

Giroux’s Flyers career got off to an especially bizarre start when then-general manager Bob Clarke forgot the Ontario native’s name at the podium when he was set to announce him as the 22nd overall pick. After a somewhat delayed promotion to the NHL, the offensive dynamo made his mark quickly with the Orange-and-Black. His blinding creativity paired with a flare for the dramatics made Giroux an instant hit. He hit, he fought, he played defense, he scored big goals, and he went about the game with a fire and tenacity that fans of this city gravitate towards.

His vital role in the team’s  miracle run throughout the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs cemented his role as one of the top contributors on the team. The departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter vaulted Giroux toward the top of the Flyers pecking order. Were it not for a mid-season concussion suffered courtesy of a knee to the head of his teammate Wayne Simmonds, Giroux could have turned in a 100 point season. Nevertheless, in a season that the Flyers lost Chris Pronger for the rest of his career, Giroux took over the reins of the team and led the Flyers to an impressive season and the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. What followed should have launched Giroux into Philadelphia folk-lore for the rest of his career.

Despite it being just a four seed vs. a five seed, the odds were stacked up against the Flyers when they drew the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round. The Penguins had the MVP of the season in Evgeni Malkin, and he wasn’t even the best player on the team. Sidney Crosby had finally returned for extended time from complications with concussion symptoms and the former NHL MVP was playing at the top of his game. The Flyers had held up well in some riveting late-season showdowns with the Pens, but few gave the Orange-and-Black much of a chance. Apparently no one gave that memo to Giroux and the Flyers.

Going toe-to-toe with Crosby throughout a great deal of the series, Giroux was the most dominant player on the ice. The Flyers established an emotional and psychological edge over the talented Penguins in the opening game, and they did not let up as they ended the series in six games. Including his first career NHL hat trick, Giroux was dominant in the scoring department. So much so that it took until the Stanley Cup Finals, two rounds after the Flyers were eliminated, for a player to surpass Giroux’s playoff point total of 17. His opening shift in the clinching game six against the Penguins where he unseated Crosby with a clean check off the faceoff and scored the opening goal all before a minute of regulation passed. Even with the team’s disappointing exit at the hands of the Devils in the following round, Giroux had forged his legendary status well before many expected him to.

For a good stretch after that, Giroux’s career took a rocky path. Wrist injuries seemed to suck some of the magic out of Giroux’s dynamic hands, as he turned in a modest 2012-2013 season, even by strike-shortened standards. Many wondered if the weight of the “C” that was given to him by the team after it was clear that Chris Pronger would not return was causing the normally free-wheeling Giroux to press in game situations. The team missed the playoffs last season and the memories of beating the Penguins might as well have been non-existent.

The following offseason, the team inked Giroux to an eight-year/$66 million to be their franchise player. There were those who bashed the move, noting Giroux’s unconventional frame as a franchise center. His bizarre offseason wrist injury at a golf event angered most, noting that his responsibilities were even more increased giving his price tag. Giroux would need a strong start to the season to prove the detractors wrong. What he got, was anything but.

Giroux did not tally his first point until the sixth game of the season and went 16 without scoring a goal. All facets of the Flyers captains game were substandard and he often looked disinterested and tentative on the ice. An early November media snub after a loss to the Devils had Giroux, the toast of the town under two years before, was approaching toxic status. Although it seemed meaningless at the time, a goal against the hapless Edmonton Oilers the game after the snub would prove to be a benchmark of the season.

Since that date, Giroux has been among the best players in the league. As his play has risen, his team has followed suit. The Flyers are 28-14-5 since Giroux scored his first goal and the captain is averaging over a point/game. On multiple occasions, including this past Sunday, Giroux has almost single-handedly brought the Flyers back from the brink of defeat to capture an exhilarating win. Miraculously, Giroux sits seventh in the league in points with 64 and has led the Flyers into the thick of the playoff race.

So once again, the Ginger Delight that is Claude Giroux is a rockstar in Philadelphia. The Flyers are rocking and rolling and doing so mostly because of the fire that their captain brings to the lineup. His locks are glorious and his one missing tooth looks like he should be a character in a new ‘SlapShot’ movie. After starting the season 1-7-0, there is nothing this city would want more than a Flyers playoff run. Should their captain continue to play the way he is, that has become a very real possibility.