VOORHEES, N.J. — Claude Giroux has seen a lot of teammates come and go. Having played parts of 14 seasons in Philadelphia, where he's the longest-tenured active athlete, the Flyers' captain has gotten used to saying hello and goodbye.
Ahead of his 15th year with the Flyers, Giroux saw more change. In came loads of experience this summer as the club acquired five players who were alternate captains last season on their respective former teams.
Giroux will welcome all the help. There has been plenty of outside debate about whether the organization surrounded Giroux with enough help during his prime years as the franchise's centerpiece.
But that's neither here nor there. At least not yet. A driven and dogged competitor, Giroux is here for another shot. Will it be his final shot in Philadelphia? The 2021-22 season is approaching the starting blocks and it marks the last year of Giroux's eight-year, $66.2 million contract. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
The shaping of his legacy as a Flyer faces a crossroad.
The 33-year-old Giroux is climbing the ladder of franchise icons and has aged considerably well. Over the last 10 seasons, he ranks third in the NHL with 708 points and has played in 735 of a possible 747 games. In that 10-year span, the Flyers have won only two playoff series.
Is this season Giroux's chance to punctuate his legacy?
"I talked to Claude about that, about exactly that situation," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Friday. "His response to me was he feels real comfortable, he wants the Flyers to win, he wants to be part of the winning formula and he’s really excited about this year. We both come from the same region (the Gatineau, Quebec area). I had so many people talk to me about his summer and the summer of the training that he did. One of the people that I know was training him during the summer; he’s come here to work and be a great example. He’s missing one thing to his legacy and that’s what he wants to get to. I’m hoping to help him achieve that."
A month ago, general manager Chuck Fletcher said the Flyers and Giroux — who is represented by premier agent Pat Brisson — were both comfortable letting the season play out sans a contract extension.
"Yeah, we had some good conversations, me and Chuck," Giroux said Thursday after Day 1 of training camp. "We said we're going to continue the talks a little bit later."
Despite the contract year, the start of camp has felt no different for Giroux compared to past years.
"It feels the exact same," Giroux said. "I don’t really think about that right now. I've had some conversations with Chuck, but it's not something that we're going to address right now."
Following a letdown 2020-21 season in which the Flyers missed the playoffs, Giroux was forthright with his frustration.
"I want to win," he said in May, "I'm pretty pissed off at the position we're in right now."
True to his word about being accountable for the Flyers' step backward, Fletcher had an aggressive and active offseason. He brought in a top-pair defenseman prior to the expansion draft, entry draft and free agency. By the end of the offseason, the Flyers had a revamped roster and renewed expectations because of it.
In a span of 40 days, Fletcher acquired Ryan Ellis, Cam Atkinson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Derick Brassard, Keith Yandle, Martin Jones and Nate Thompson. In the process, the Flyers parted ways with Jakub Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, Brian Elliott, Philippe Myers, Nolan Patrick and Robert Hagg.
"I don’t want it to come across as if the guys that have left weren’t good people," Vigneault said Thursday. "From Jake to Phil Myers to Patty, etc., they were good people. We've brought in other good people that we believe is going to change the team dynamic and we believe that the team dynamic is going to be better. Time will tell, but we really feel strongly about that."
Ellis, Atkinson, Brassard, Yandle and Ristolainen were alternate captains last season.
"Anytime you bring guys with experience, whether they have an 'A' or not, it doesn’t matter, you bring leadership," Giroux said. "The leadership group got a little bit bigger. You can’t have too many leaders in one team. I think the important thing is to make sure that we get all on the same page and there's only one message out there. I think that's one thing that we're going to have to work on."
Yandle is a 35-year-old veteran defenseman who has played in 922 consecutive games. For the first time in his career, he's experiencing what it's like to face Giroux as a teammate in practice.
"Playing against him for a long time, you know how competitive he is, but I didn’t realize how competitive he is — on the ice, off the ice," Yandle said Friday. "In the gym, he wants to get better every day, he's pushing himself, he's pushing everybody else around him. A guy that's a lot of fun to be around. You can’t have a bad day around him or he's going to make you pay. Definitely a fun guy to play with."
Brassard, a fellow French Canadian, played against Giroux in junior hockey when both were in the QMJHL. The 34-year-old has 117 games of playoff experience but is still looking for a Stanley Cup title like Giroux.
"Obviously he's got the world-class talent in him, but for me, I think he's one of the best competitors around," Brassard said Saturday. "Whether it's on the ice, outside the ice, I think that guy's a gamer. That's what you want as your captain, as your leader of your team. He's been doing it for so many years; it's pretty impressive what he has done.
"That's another guy I'm pretty excited to play with. I feel his energy, he always wants to get better, he's 33 — we're almost the same age. He's got some good hockey left in him, he's up there as one of the best players in the last few years in the league, so I'm looking forward to playing with him."
It's all part of Giroux leading another group in Philadelphia. Giroux and the club will decide later whether he's still writing his Flyers legacy or if this is the final chapter.
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