As Claude Giroux worked his way back from a concussion he suffered in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the similarities to Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby had many fans imagining the worst case scenario in terms of player health.
Crosby missed more than 10 months before returning from concussion problems, and only managed to play eight games before suffering a setback and returning to the “out indefinitely” category.
After Giroux’s diagnosis, a mere eight days passed before the budding superstar returned to the action. The move paid off, as Giroux chalked up four points in his return, never relinquishing the NHL lead in scoring.
Despite the successful return, it is difficult to consider Giroux “out of the woods” just yet, especially when comparing his condition to Crosby’s. Crosby spent 10 months getting better and still managed to exacerbate the situation only eight games into his return; Giroux was out less than two weeks before being cleared to play again and has only played two games since his return.
That is not to say that Giroux should be watching games from the press box for a few months, but the team certainly doesn’t want to do anything risky that would put the future of their superstar center in danger.
Here are six reasons to treat Giroux’s return from injury very seriously.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to use the terms “Flyers” and “concussion” in the same sentence without conjuring up images of the improper way the team handled the health of its last major superstar, Eric Lindros.
In the 1999-2000 season alone, his last with the Flyers, Lindros suffered an absurd four concussions, in part, according to Lindros, because of the reckless way that Bobby Clarke and the training staff handled their star’s health.
The culture of hockey in Philadelphia and around the league has changed since those days, and players are no longer highly pressured to play through an injury to the head.
Nonetheless, in a league as competitive as the NHL, it is likely that a player like Claude Giroux hungers to get back on the ice while he rehabilitates himself, and the Flyers have a responsibility to themselves and to Giroux to ensure that he does not become another Lindros.
Giroux’s concussion was not the only head injury plaguing the Flyers in mid-December. Just days after Giroux’s diagnosis, the team revealed that Chris Pronger, the franchise’s newly-appointed captain, would miss the remainder of the regular season and playoffs with post-concussion syndrome.
The absence of the squad’s most commanding leader makes Giroux’s role on the team that much more important. On a team as young as the Flyers, there is an opportunity for Giroux to grow with his teammates in the role as their leader.
Giroux may only be 23 years old, but his style of play in the offensive and defensive zones make him a natural leader. He may not be as vocal as Pronger, but Giroux is extremely competitive and takes the sport more seriously than his former captain, Mike Richards.
With impressionable players like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier getting ready to rise through the ranks, the Flyers need Giroux on the ice for years to keep the whole team reaching new levels of competitiveness.
When the Flyers traded away top goal-scorer Jeff Carter and team captain Mike Richards to acquire Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a draft pick that became Sean Couturier, GM Paul Holmgren made it clear that he was investing in the long-term future of the franchise.
Despite the Flyers’ surprising early-season success, that philosophy still holds true. As players like Schenn, Couturier, Voracek and James van Riemsdyk get more experience under their belts, the team will become increasingly dangerous on offense and more responsible on the back-check.
Because of this bright future, the Flyers owe it to themselves not to get greedy in 2011-12. That is not to say the team shouldn’t try to make a run at the Stanley Cup, because they have been one of the most competitive teams in the league this year.
However, they cannot put all their eggs in this season’s basket. The greatest days are yet to come, as long as Giroux is in the lineup to set the example for his younger teammates.
Even though the team is invested in the future, the possibility of a championship run in 2011-12 is by no means a pipe dream.
Obviously, Giroux is more valuable to the team in the lineup than he would be out of the lineup, but the season is still relatively young.
Last year, the Flyers found themselves on top of the Eastern Conference early in the year, behind players like Chris Pronger. However, Pronger suffered a string of injuries late in the year, and suddenly, all the team’s success from the start of the season seemed to disappear.
That abrupt ending was a reminder that any good player is more valuable in April than he is in January. The Flyers need Giroux to be 100 percent healthy when the games begin to matter more, and if they need to sacrifice some points in December and January, they will be better off as a sixth seed with a healthy roster than a second seed playing through injuries.
In the words of Herb Brooks, “Great moments are born from great opportunity.” For the optimist in the Philadelphia stands, Giroux’s injury had an upside: certain players got the chance to take the next step in their development.
If Giroux begins to exhibit signs that he has not fully recovered from his concussion, the trainers have a responsibility to sit him out, and other players in the lineup will look to fill the void left by the injury.
Sean Couturier got a brief opportunity to play on the top line with Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr. Couturier did not manage to get on the score sheet, but he was effective with his veteran linemates in the two full games he played before an errant puck struck his helmet and put Couturier out of the lineup with a head injury of his own.
Matt Read and Jakub Voracek saw opportunity as well, with Read spending some time at center and Voracek establishing himself as a solid two-way forward with incredible playmaking ability.
Giroux may be the most important skater on the ice for the Flyers, but in his absence, his teammates sent a message that Giroux is not the only player that wins games for Philadelphia.
Thanks to stricter rules in the NHL, teams can feel more confident that, if they handle concussion-like symptoms properly, their players are not immediate candidates to become chronically concussed.
Head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has made a reduction in headshots a priority for the NHL, introducing new rules about boarding and open-ice hits that target the head in 2011-12.
It is difficult to assess whether or not the new rules have been effective so far, but the most high-profile concussions in the league—Giroux’s, as well as Crosby’s recurring problems and an injury to Milan Michalek—came as the result of accidents with teammates, not the violent, competitive nature of the game.
This means that the league is doing its part to protect players like Giroux. If the Flyers’ organization does their part, there is little reason to believe that head injuries will be a chronic problem for Giroux.
However, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a glaring example of the effects of a team failing to do its part. By being careless with Crosby and allowing him to play a game after he clearly had his bell rung by Dave Steckel in last year’s Winter Classic, a normally innocuous hit by Victor Hedman took the face of the NHL off the ice for nearly a year.
The Flyers need to work with the NHL to ensure that players like Giroux have long careers in the league.