Claude Giroux was named the 19th captain of the Philadelphia Flyers on January 15, 2013. While nobody denies Giroux’s talent and potential, both the Flyers and Giroux have struggled since he started wearing the "C." Is it time for Giroux to step down as captain and simply concentrate on playing better hockey?
The numbers are clear. Giroux’s best NHL season came in 2011-12 when he scored 28 goals and accumulated 93 points in 77 games. The Flyers qualified for the playoffs and reached the second round.
Giroux’s performance in his first season as captain was disappointing, not terrible, but disappointing. For all the criticism he received, the native of Hearst, Ontario, still averaged nearly a point-per-game, scoring 13 goals and 47 points in 48 games. The troubling thing, however, was the team’s poor play. The Flyers got off to a slow start and failed to reach the playoffs for only the second time in the last 18 seasons.
This season, the Flyers again got off to a very slow start. They were last in the league in goals scored for most of the early part of the season and remain 29th in this category.
Giroux himself has also struggled, not scoring his first goal of the year until last Saturday’s win over the Edmonton Oilers. It ended a 21-game goal scoring drought for Giroux dating back to last season.
Thus far this season, Giroux has scored just one goal and 10 points in 18 games and has a minus-eight plus/minus rating. These are obviously not acceptable numbers for the player the Flyers are building their franchise around.
Being captain of an NHL team is a unique position in the sports world. The captaincy carries more responsibility in hockey than it does in most other sports.
Justin Bourne of TheScore.com spelled out the importance of a captain in the NHL and discussed their role. Bourne is a former college and minor league hockey player and is the son of Bob Bourne, who won four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders in the 1980s.
Being captain is a tough job and it requires a player of unique leadership skills to do it well. Bourne indicated that a captain needs to:
- Communicate the team’s needs to the coach
- Sense when the team lulls are coming and get out in front of them
- Lead by example
- Speak when necessary
- Be consistent
While it’s tough for anyone outside the locker room to know how well Giroux is communicating with the coach and how well his teammates respond when he speaks, there are obviously some issues with at least three of these categories.
Giroux does seem to have difficulty anticipating his team’s lulls and gotten in front of them to prevent them from becoming major slumps. Both last season and this season, the Flyers have costly periods where their play was poor for long stretches of time.
The other obvious areas of doubt include being consistent and leading by example. Taking over the captain’s “C” has made Giroux a lot less consistent on the ice than he was before he became captain.
Being inconsistent on the ice makes it tough for any player to lead by example. Leading by example means you have to play the right way and show consistency on the ice. It also means being dedicated and putting in extra time before and after practice and helping teammates to do the same.
At 25, Giroux is hardly an elder statesman in the Philadelphia locker room. In fact, the team has several players who may be better qualified to be captain. Both Mark Streit (New York Islanders) and Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay Lightning) have previously served as captains of other teams. They also have more NHL experience than Giroux does. Scott Hartnell is also a veteran leader on this team who in the short-term, may be a better candidate to be captain than Giroux.
The idea of a player stepping down as captain is hardly unprecedented. Clark Gillies was named captain of the Islanders midway through the 1976-77 season when veteran Ed Westfall felt he was not contributing enough to be captain. Gillies wore the “C” for two seasons but never felt fully comfortable with the role. In both of his full seasons as captain, the heavily favored Islanders were upset in the playoffs, first by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1978 and then by the New York Rangers in 1979.
Gillies stepped aside before the start of the 1979-80 season and allowed Denis Potvin to take over as captain. The Islanders went on to win four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83, and Gillies went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Islanders.
It’s not clear how comfortable Giroux is wearing the “C” for the Flyers, but it does appear to be a burden to the young star. He is clearly the player the team is built around right now, but that doesn’t mean he necessarily is best served by being captain. Both Giroux and the team have struggled since he was named captain at the start of last season.
If he and the team continue to under perform, it would probably be better for both Giroux and the Flyers to name a veteran player captain and let their young star concentrate on just playing hockey.
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