PHILADELPHIA – The clip has become a replayed classic. Former Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke was at the podium and set to announce the team’s first-round pick in the 2006 NHL draft.
Then he blanked.
“Philadelphia selects, from Gatineau of the Quebec Junior League,” Clarke paused, looked down at some paper, then glanced off to the side for some help. “I forget.”
When the chuckles died down, Clarke made the announcement: Claude Giroux.
It’s easy to look back and laugh these days. After all, no one around the league is forgetting Giroux’s name this season.
The Flyers forward has grown into a superstar and a prime contender to win both the Art Ross Trophy for league scoring champion and Hart for NHL MVP. Of course, Giroux would like to be linked with Clarke for more than a draft gaffe—he wants to share the feeling of hoisting the Stanley Cup for the orange and black.
Giroux has done his part this season to help keep the Flyers in the thick of the Eastern Conference race. He was named to the all-star team, has 20 goals, and his 60 points place second behind Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin for the scoring lead, entering Wednesday night’s games.
Flyers veteran forward Jaromir Jagr has called Giroux, “a little Mario Lemieux.”
Jagr would know, about as well as any player, what it’s like to play with both players. He won a pair of Stanley Cups with Lemieux in the 1990s, and has partnered this season with Giroux on a line that also includes fellow all-star Scott Hartnell. The 24-year-old Giroux is well on his way to surpassing last season’s totals in goals (25) and points (76), proving general manager Paul Holmgren’s bold decision last summer to trade Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and turn the keys over to Giroux was a wise one.
Giroux has only been slowed down this season by a concussion that forced him out of a few games and a two-week dry stretch in January that has him looking up in the points race.
With the Flyers four points behind the New York Rangers (they play Saturday) in the Eastern Conference race, Giroux has more pressing matters than focusing on the scoring title. But if more points mean more wins, Giroux is ready to become a bit more selfish and shoot more.
“If I’m scoring points, that means I’m helping the team win. So, obviously I want to do that,” he said. “It would be cool to win it. But I never want to go out of my way to win a scoring title. If it’s there, it’s there. But I’m not too worried about it.”
Clarke (1973, 1975, 1976) and Eric Lindros (1995) are the only Flyers to ever earn MVP honours. Giroux finds himself in the mix this season with Malkin, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Toronto’s Phil Kessel, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Vancouver’s Sedin brothers, Henrik and Daniel.
Giroux was recently named 2011 Pro Athlete of the Year by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association.
Not quite the MVP. But not too bad in a city full of sports stars.
“He wants to score, he wants to get points,” Hartnell said. “When he’s going, our team is at its best. He’s probably our biggest catalyst on our team. He loves life, he loves having laughs, he loves being around the boys. That’s what you want in a young superstar. I’m not even sure if he knows how good he is.”
He had two goals and five points in three games before the Flyers lost, 1-0, in a shootout to the New York Islanders on Tuesday. He’s been counted on even more lately to handle the scoring load. Danny Briere returned against the Islanders after missing six games with a concussion, but James van Riemsdyk sat out for the 11th straight game.
He does more than score, though.
Giroux wins more than 50 per cent of his faceoffs, leads the Flyers on the power play and isn’t afraid to block shots.
Briere hasn’t been surprised at Giroux’s ascension into the league’s elite.
“You could see it. It was just a matter of time,” he said. “The thing that impressed me most about him is not his skill level anymore. We’ve seen it now for three years, four years. It’s how hard he competes on every shift. That shows on the rest of the team as well.”
When Holmgren suggested Briere take Giroux under hiswing last season, he invited Giroux to live with him and his young boys. If the Art Ross included points for neatness and keeping up with chores, Giroux would win in a landslide.
“The kids were sad when he left this year,” Briere said. “He was there with us for a year. It was like a tough breakup.”
He’s popular with the fans, too. In his first day on Twitter, Giroux gained more than 50,000 followers on (at)28CGiroux.
They love him in Philadelphia.
And they’ll never, ever, forget his name again.