It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Claude Giroux was the 22nd overall pick by the Flyers in 2006. He was a rising prospect and made his debut in 2008. He was surrounded by talented players: James van Riemsdyk, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, and Daniel Briere. The team made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup in 2010. And then…
A decade followed when the Flyers were barely competitive. If the team qualified for the playoffs, they were usually a first-round out. A “one-and-done” team. In the 12 seasons following the Cup loss, the Flyers missed the playoffs in half of those seasons. And save for the “Pandemic Playoff Bubble”, the Flyers made very little noise in the playoffs.
At the center of all this, rightfully or wrongfully, was Flyers captain Claude Giroux. He wore the “C” on his chest from the time that Chris Pronger was forced to retire due to concussions. He was the longest-tenured athlete in Philadelphia for many seasons. He was the captain of the team longer than any other Flyer in team history. He was only the second player in team history to play 1000 games. He is also second on the team with 900 career points (291 goals and 609 assists).
But as the Flyers faltered last year, the team decided it was time to trade him off. His eight-year deal, signed in 2013, was coming to an end. Would he stay or walk? The team, unable to get a commitment from him, honored his requests and traded him to a contender: the Florida Panthers. He made an impact on his new team, scoring three goals and 20 assists in 18 games. In 10 games in the playoffs, he added three more goals with five assists. But the Panthers fell in the second round to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With Florida tapped out with the salary cap, Giroux hit the free agency market for the first time. He chose to go home to Ottawa, near where he grew up. Giroux signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract. He was hoping to be part of the team’s rebuilding effort. They made a lot of off-season moves, built around a young team. Giroux was named an alternate captain and it was hoped that his experience could help guide the team forward.
So far, that hasn’t happened. While the Flyers’ rebuild is going strong, Ottawa’s moves have not paid off. The team is mired in last place and is struggling on many fronts. Giroux has scored four goals, including his 300th career goal on Saturday against his former teammates.
While he has played against his former team, he hasn’t played in Philly, yet. But that will change on Saturday night when he, and the Senators, show up at the Wells Fargo Center. In an interview this summer, he hinted he hopes he gets some boos. Not that he has given the fans any reason to boo him. In fact, he is echoing similar sentiments said by former Wayne Simmonds in his first return to Philly.
He was beloved by Flyers fans. He was criticized at times for not being vocal enough or for not being clutch enough when needed. And at the same time, he was praised for putting the team on his back and carrying them. Giroux was supposed to return us to the hockey holy land. He didn’t do that. How much of it is on him? How much of it was the revolving door of coaches and general managers? How much of it was the supporting cast around him? Hard to say for sure.
And to be fair to him, it’s not like any other first round pick brought home Lord Stanley’s Cup. Higher round picks, like JVR and Eric Lindros have failed to do it. Sam Morin and Nolan Patrick couldn’t stay healthy enough to bring one home. To put all the expectations on one player, as we fans typically do is not always fair.
I know every Flyers fans have a favorite memory of Claude Giroux. Mine is during the Winter Classic game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. You know the moment….he shoots and scores in overtime and then he looks at the camera and poses, arms out to his side. Beautiful shot…both by him and the cameraman. Just a little bit of edginess against a hated rival. I will never forget that moment.
Either way, it will be an emotional night on Saturday when G comes back to Philly for the first time. I hope he has a good enough game, but not enough to beat the Flyers. Whatever happens, this is one of the games that Flyers fans will have had circled on their calendar since before the season. I would also expect to see a lot of jerseys with #28 on them at Wells Fargo Center.