Giroux has what it takes to be a good Flyers captain

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Claude Giroux's struggles could be because of the changes on the ice around him.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Claude Giroux's struggles could be because of the changes on the ice around him.
Posted: February 15, 2013

WHEN CLAUDE Giroux looked to his right for much of last season, he saw a future Hall of Famer. When he looked to his left, he saw a soon-to-be All-Star, playing in his 12th season.

Now, Claude Giroux looks to his left and sees a player who has scored 20 goals in a season only once. When he looks to his right, he sees a second-year player who was a revelation as an undrafted free agent last season, but a guy who is actually older than the newest Flyers captain.

That's just Friday night. A few more unproductive games, and Giroux might be playing with one or two other guys, instead of Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read.

After contributing an assist Tuesday in Winnipeg, Giroux has eight points over the Flyers' first 14 games. That's well off his pace of a year ago, when he finished third in the NHL in scoring, amassing 93 points with Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell as his regular wingmen.

Jagr signed in Dallas after last season. Hartnell was hurt early in this late-starting season, and is expected to test his broken foot over the weekend. Meanwhile, coach Peter Laviolette continues to tinker as Giroux continues to toil, looking for the combination that will unlock the Flyers star.

"Claude's playing hard out there," Laviolette said after practice Thursday. "The points usually follow that. Sometimes, it takes time before things break open. But the biggest thing you want see in those situations is, are they playing hard? Are they competing at a high level? Claude is doing all of that."

It's a hard thing to decipher, whether Giroux' scoring struggles since being named captain are due more to these missing pieces than missing mojo.

No doubt, a captain's effect on his team can be overstated. Zach Parise left the Devils as a free agent following their run to the Stanley Cup finals a year ago, and here are those pesky Devils sitting atop the Eastern Conference, playing lights-out hockey entering Friday's game against the Flyers.

Still, the captain of your team should be a table-setter, should be a hard worker who is willing to lead his team, which includes postgame duties as well as in-game ones. When Eric Lindros and Mike Richards slipped out back doors rather than face the unwashed media hordes after tough playoff losses, it was not just about avoiding the media. It was about avoiding the pressure. It was noted by teammates and the hierarchy.

Both men were named captains at a young age because of their status. They were among the youngest players on the team when they were tabbed, and it might have affected their ability and willingness to do the kind of motivating, prodding and occasional scolding that more seasoned players such as Keith Primeau and Chris Pronger were willing and able to.

Giroux' situation is different. At 25, he already is in his fifth season as a Flyer, served as their de facto captain last season in the wake of Pronger's season-ending injury - and excelled. Now, in a dressing room filled with first- and second-year players, he is among the more experienced and older than seven of them.

Clearly, the team's personality has changed significantly from last season's high-scoring, high-risk team. The Flyers lean far more heavily on Brayden Schenn than they did a year ago. They expect or need consistency from Sean Couturier and Read. They need Simmonds, still only 24, to continue his improvement as an offensive weapon.

"We've got a ton of young, skill players who are years away from reaching their peak," Danny Briere said.

Of course, Giroux could aid all of them if his shots start to snap twine. And vice versa.

"Well, I know if I score points, it's going to help the team, right?" Giroux said this week. "We've had a lot of chances. We've just got to keep going here. It's going to start going in pretty soon here."

Leadership is often forged through such trials and hard times. Drafted third overall by Detroit in 1990 amid great expectations, Primeau would not have been a good captain choice at 25. Traded twice during his career, Primeau was part of a veteran group that feuded with and resisted Flyers coach Bill Barber, leading to Barber's dismissal following a dismal first-round loss to Ottawa in 2001-02.

Was that leadership? Not without what followed the next two seasons. The Flyers played in 31 playoff games in those years, and Primeau nearly carried a beaten-up squad into the Stanley Cup finals in what Phil Esposito called the greatest individual playoff effort he had ever seen.

With his heroics against the Penguins last April, Giroux already has hinted that he is capable of that - and that, like his younger teammates, his best highlights are in his future.

So, too, are episodes like this. Briere recalls that when he was 25 and playing in Phoenix, "I was still just a prospect."

"It's gonna come," Briere said. "He's just too good for it not to."

On Twitter: @samdonnellon


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