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McGuinness: Appreciating Claude Giroux, An Ultimate Flyer And Unsung Star

| Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Over the last decade, the National Hockey League has seen the emergence and primes of some of the greatest stars in its history. Generational talents Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin started their careers in the mid-2000s, but most of their best seasons (and three of their four Stanley Cup wins) came during the last decade. Other No. 1 picks like John Tavares and Patrick Kane helped bring back respectability to the Islanders and Blackhawks, respectively. Steven Stamkos, another first overall selection, delivered the league’s most recent 60-goal season in 2011-12 and won a pair of Cups of his own to start the 2020s.

There have been plenty of other incredible talents that have come (and gone) over the last decade, enough for some of them to slip through the cracks. Whether it’s due to market, team success, injuries, or something else, not every star gets their due. The top paragraph mentions five of the NHL’s top six scorers from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2019. It’s not Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backström, or probably another five-plus players you would rattle off the top of your head if you didn’t read the headline.

Incredibly, the player who ranks between Ovechkin and Stamkos as the NHL’s fourth-leading scorer of the last full decade is still going strong. He’s become the longest-tenured captain in the history of one of the league’s most respected franchises; only Toews, Crosby, Ovechkin, and Ryan Getzlaf have been a captain longer among active players. Even at 33, he’s tied for the leading scorer on his team at just under a point-per-game pace. He’s been at the top of his team’s points chart eight of the last eleven seasons. By Hockey Reference’s point shares metric, he’s the third-best player in franchise history. Nobody, not even Ovechkin and his legendary one-timer, tallied more power-play points in the 2010s than his 289. And only the team’s legendary captain from their two Cup wins in the 1970s has played more games than him. In fact, barring injury, he’ll become just the 70th player in the NHL’s 104-year history to play 1,000 games with the same franchise this season.

His name? Claude Giroux. And he is the NHL’s most underrated star of his generation.

In fairness to casual fans, Giroux’s name has been forgotten since before anybody even knew it. When the Flyers drafted Giroux 22nd in the 2006 NHL Draft, GM Bobby Clarke (the only Flyer with more games played than Giroux) infamously forgot his name when announcing it at the podium. Despite dominant numbers for the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques, there was little fanfare around Giroux’s NHL debut. It came as an emergency call-up out of junior in February 2008. Even people paid to cover the sport don’t seem to know Giroux as well as they should. In 2018, Giroux received votes for the NHL’s All-Star team at three positions despite playing all 82 games at left wing. And it certainly doesn’t help that the Flyers made the playoffs as many times in Giroux’s first four seasons (four) as they have in the last nine, as the team has failed to surround Giroux with enough depth and talent necessary to be sustained Cup contenders in far too long.

But throughout his entire Flyers career, Giroux has been sensational, albeit in different ways. Giroux became a full-time NHLer midway through the 2008-09 season, showing off silky smooth hands and electric offensive talent. The hockey world witnessed Giroux’s coming-out party in the 2010 playoffs, as Giroux finished third on the Flyers with 21 points and second with 10 goals en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final since 1997. Giroux’s overtime winner in Game 3 of the series stands today as arguably the greatest moment for the Flyers in the salary cap era.

Over the next two seasons, Giroux turned into a dominant force, leading the Flyers in regular season and playoff scoring in 2010-11 and 2011-12. His work in the 2012 playoffs was simply legendary. Giroux tallied 14 points in the Flyers’ six-game first-round win over the Penguins. In the series-clinching Game 6, Giroux specifically asked head coach Peter Laviolette for the game’s first shift, which he used to blast Penguins captain and archrival Sidney Crosby and wire the game’s first goal past Marc-Andrè Fleury just 32 seconds in. Though the Flyers were bounced in round two, Giroux’s eight goals were tied for most of any player in the 2012 playoffs. Each of the four players he was even with played more than twice as many games as the then-budding superstar.

The Flyers officially became Giroux’s team the following season, and Giroux just kept producing in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. A slow start to the 2013-14 campaign contributed to an unfathomable snub from Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics. The snub sent Giroux’s post-Olympic play to another stratosphere, as he tallied 29 points in the season’s final 22 games to push the Flyers into the playoffs, earning a Hart Trophy nomination in the process.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Giroux’s career hit a bit of a rut. After scoring 86 points in 2013-14, he dropped to 73, 67, and 58 in the next three seasons. Giroux seemed like a shell of himself in the last of those years, which came in the wake of offseason core muscle surgery in 2016, just four months before helping Canada win the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. There were legitimate questions as to how well Giroux would age into his 30s, if the 8-year, $66.2 million extension he signed in July 2013 might become an albatross.

But once Giroux moved to left wing in 2017-18, his career caught a second wind. Giroux wasn’t as explosive as he was in his early-mid 20s, yet he still thrived well-rounded, intelligent player. Instead of being flashy, Giroux learned to excel by mastering the little things. Incredibly, Giroux recorded a career-high 102 points in 2017-18, the first 100-point season by a Flyer since Eric Lindros in 1994-95. That mark was good enough for second-most in the league, just six behind Connor McDavid for the Art Ross Trophy. With the Flyers on the bubble up until their final game, Giroux delivered a truly special conclusion to the season. The captain ended the year on a 5-game goal streak and 10-game point streak, including a hat-trick in Philadelphia’s final game, a 5-0 win that clinched a playoff spot. Giroux finished the year fourth in Hart Trophy voting and made the NHL’s All-Star Team as well.

Regardless of how his career ends, hopefully with the Stanley Cup he and Flyers fans deserve, Giroux will go down as one of the best Flyers ever. The once fiery youngster who used to take one-timers so powerful he occasionally fell over has seamlessly transitioned into a measured but still dedicated veteran leader. His Hall of Fame case isn’t too shabby, either; Giroux should hit the 900 point mark this season and could reach 1,000 with just a couple more fairly productive seasons. Giroux has never missed more than five games in a season since making his first Opening Night roster in 2009. His only two missed games since the 2016-17 season came last season due to a positive COVID test.

Very few players in the history of hockey, especially in the last generation, have combined, skill, smarts, leadership, and endurance as well as Claude Giroux. There isn’t much time left to appreciate the 33-year old, but there will be plenty to remember just how consistently excellent Giroux has been throughout his career. We just need to make sure everybody knows about it.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a senior in Siegfried Hall and Sports Editor of The Observer. He is from Haddonfield, New Jersey, and loves all of his Philly sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Reach out below or on Twitter (@_AndrewMcG) to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Stranger Things, Survivor, Abbott Elementary or/and Severance.

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