Claude Giroux sat there at his end-of-the-season news conference last week, answering question after question and periodically sipping from his Wawa 16 oz. coffee cup, because Giroux has been here for 10 years and that is what Philadelphians do.
Then came a pointed question that, in hindsight, Giroux could have handled better — with a little less truth and a bit more deceit.
Was this crowd tough on you, not just you but the whole team?
“I do think so,” Giroux said. “I think when it’s not going very well, fans, they start booing us and stuff. That’s when we try to do too much after.”
And here we are. Giroux, after another disappointing playoff performance, is being painted as a whiner, and we’re from Philadelphia, and we don’t complain; some of us throw objects onto the ice in the postseason instead. Even after Giroux posted the Flyers’ first 100-point season in over 20 years, calls to break up the core have resurfaced.
Frustrations with the Flyers’ lack of playoff success are warranted; they haven’t won a series since 2012. Criticism of Giroux’s postseason play is fair. Since Peter Laviolette called him the “best player in the world” in 2012, Giroux has 13 points and a minus-14 rating in 23 playoff games. As the Flyers’ captain and one of the best players in franchise history, that just isn’t going to cut it. Giroux has to be better.
“You play the game to go as far as you can,” Giroux said. “Early in my career, I got a chance to go to the Cup, went to the second round a couple of times. For us to get in that position being able to play longer, I strongly believe we are [headed] in the right direction.”
The expectation placed on the Flyers by Ron Hextall has been to compete in the playoffs during the rebuild — and yes, we can use that “R” word. Last week, Hextall finally admitted what we knew all along, that “this is a bit of a slow process.” But the Flyers are getting younger and the clock is ticking on the Giroux era.
Now comes the question of whether the Flyers can still win with Giroux. Perhaps, though, the better question is, in what capacity will Giroux be when the Flyers are ready to contend again?
Giroux, 30, posted career highs across the board in 2017-18. He finished second in the NHL in scoring, with 102 points, and had his first 30-goal season (34), all while bouncing back from his worst 82-game season in 2016-17 since his first full year. But with four years left at $8.275 million per, Giroux put to rest the notion his contract would haunt the Flyers.
While Hextall enters his fifth offseason as GM, the first with any real cap space, the Flyers are still getting younger. Travis Konecny avoided the sophomore slump, while Nolan Patrick, after a bumpy start, established himself as the team’s No. 2 center. Oskar Lindblom played well, and there will likely be more kids here next season.
"I think it is good competition," Giroux said. "Look at Nolan Patrick and TK — they really took a step forward. They're going to deserve more ice time, more situations. For guys like us, you gotta keep going. At the end of the day, this game's a business. The best at the job will get the job. You have to be able to push yourself. We want those kids to do great."
In that lies the answer. Can the Flyers still win with Giroux? Sure. It’ll come down to whether he’s part of the core or here as part of the veteran presence when they’re ready to contend.
But to cherry-pick Giroux's honest response to a specific question is unfair. We're from Philadelphia, and captains are our punching bags. Fair or not.