The proud dad walked into the Flyers’ dressing room and was more excited to talk about his newborn son than his puzzle of a hockey team.
After all, Claude Giroux will be answering questions about the Flyers -- many similar to those he has fielded for 11 seasons -- for the next seven-plus months.
It’s much more fun talking about his first child, Gavin, who was born Aug. 26, and what he means to him and his wife, Ryanne.
“He is,” Giroux said after the first day of training camp Friday, “amazing.”
So amazing that he may cause Giroux, who turns 32 on Jan. 12, to play longer than anticipated.
“Obviously, it’s a little bit more motivation for me to have him grow up and watch me play,” Giroux said.
Gavin could be watching his father put the finishing touches on a Hall of Fame career.
Giroux, the Flyers captain and one of the NHL’s most underrated players, has been getting better with age. He had career-bests in goals (34) and points (102) in 2017-18 and last year finished with a commendable 85 points. Over the last nine seasons, he leads the NHL in assists (477) and is third in points (688), behind only Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane.
Yet, Giroux gets little respect. When the Hockey News listed its top 50 active players recently, Giroux was just 42nd.
Giroux doesn’t care. All his attention (when he’s not with his newborn son) is on leading the Flyers into the playoffs and making a long run.
The Flyers have made the playoffs just three times in the last seven years. Don’t blame Giroux. The captain has not had a good supporting cast, and last year’s team was poor offensively and worse on the defensive end. In the Year of Eight Goalies, the Flyers’ special teams were also lacking, and that’s being kind.
They made some modest offseason gains – but not as many as some of their rivals -- by adding center Kevin Hayes and veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. Having goalie Carter Hart from the start of the season should help immensely, too.
They also added a deeply respected coach, Alain Vigneault.
“On paper, I think we’re better. We got some pieces that are going to help us a lot,” Giroux said. “But that’s only on paper. We need to go out there and do it.”
The Flyers started camp minus one of their best offensive players, Travis Konecny, a restricted free agent who was unsigned. In the camp session Friday , hot shot rookie Joel Farabee took Konecny’s right-wing spot on the top line, which included left winger Giroux and center Sean Couturier.
Farabee, 19, figures to be a better defensive player than the one-dimensional (so far) Konecny, but he obviously needs lots of polishing in his overall game.
“Joel is good. He’s got hockey sense. He moves the puck well and has good hands and is quick,” Giroux said. “He’s got all the tools. I’m pretty excited to see him in games.”
The exhibition games will start Monday. Maybe by then Konecny will be signed and in camp. Having Konecny and Farabee, of course, would make the Flyers much stronger and improve their depth.
“I’m very disappointed [Konecny] was not here,” Vigneault said after the opening camp session. “It’s the start of a new era, a new group. I felt it was very important for everybody to be here. With my time in the NHL and my experience, anybody who falls behind, whether it’s injury or, in T.K.’s situation, not coming to camp, usually it takes them a little bit of time to get back at it, especially with a new coaching staff and a new way of doing things.”
In addition to Konecny, injured center Nolan Patrick was not at camp and is listed as week-to-week. That might open the door for Morgan Frost, another promising rookie who centered rookie Isaac Ratcliffe and veteran Jake Voracek on Friday.
General manager Chuck Fletcher, who helped put the lines together because Vigneault isn’t yet familiar with all the prospects, deliberately had Farabee with veteran stars Giroux and Couturier, and Ratcliffe and Frost with the gifted Voracek.
“These are good young players,” Fletcher said of prospects such as Farabee, Frost, and Ratcliffe, “and you might as well play them with good players and give them a chance to show what they can do.
"I don’t know what it means for the season or the short term, but these guys are very important parts of our future, and I think we want to give them a chance to show what they can do. Gain some confidence and get some experience. Any time you have an opportunity to practice with Giroux or Couturier or Voracek when you’re a young skilled player, it’s a great opportunity to watch, learn, and hopefully feel good about yourself.”