Reggie Jackson was once called "the straw that stirred the drink" when he joined the New York Yankees in 1977. Well, OK, Jackson called himself that. But he was the center of attention, the player that made his team go and the focus of both fans, media and opposing players.
Giroux is the one player the Flyers cannot do without. He makes the players around him better. Opposing teams try their best to stop him and still can't find a way to do it. When Giroux plays well, the Flyers usually win. When he has an off game, the Flyers often struggle.
How valuable is the Flyers captain to the team? In the 19 games Giroux has scored at least one goal, the Flyers are 16-2-1. When he doesn't put the puck in the net, Philadelphia's record is a much more pedestrian 16-22-5.
But right now, Giroux's value to the team goes beyond his point totals. As Anthony SanFilippo said on the team's official website after Sunday's comeback win over the Washington Capitals, "(the) team plays like he (Giroux) plays – with his hair on fire and loathing of losing. ... His style of play is infectious."
Tim Panacchio of Philly.com noted that Giroux played Sunday's game angry after watching two of his teammates get hit by cheap shots. But he also pointed out how "that anger carried over into Giroux’s offensive game in a positive manner. ... Channeling anger into something constructive on the ice is part of team discipline."
The support for Giroux goes to the very top of the Flyers organization. Chairman Ed Snider has always backed up his captain, especially when he was left off Team Canada for the second straight Olympics. Snider told Sam Carchidi of Philly.com:
It’s a farce. He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s better than half the guys on that (Olympic) team. Anybody who thinks Claude Giroux doesn’t belong on the Olympic team, they don’t know anything about hockey, as far as I’m concerned.
The bottom line is that as Giroux goes, so go the Flyers. While the team can win a few games without Giroux playing at the top of his game, it cannot hope to make a lengthy playoff run without its captain providing consistent production.
He is the straw that stirs the drink, that rare player who makes the other players around him better because he leads by example. The Flyers may not be an elite team right now, but their best hopes of becoming one require them to build around their captain.