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Captain Giroux not the one to blame for Flyers' woes

Article bashes Claude Giroux's leadership skills, but he's not the reason the Flyers are struggling to make the playoffs.

Claude Giroux has been an upfront guy with the media, and is not the reason the Flyers have struggled this season.
Claude Giroux has been an upfront guy with the media, and is not the reason the Flyers have struggled this season.Read more

ST. LOUIS - Talk to those closest to Claude Giroux and they'll tell you that the person in front of the camera and front-and-center for questions after a gut-wrenching loss isn't always the same away from the microphones.

Like, that time last April, a family member caught a ride home from Giroux after a Stanley Cup playoff loss the Rangers.

The entire 15-minute trip, from South Philadelphia to Center City, Giroux slammed his fists on the steering wheel and cursed up a blue streak - in French.

"We weren't good enough," Giroux repeated, in the clean, translated version. "I wasn't good enough."

Giroux, then 26, was bothered because he was being suffocated by the Rangers. He didn't register his first shot on goal until his 62nd shift of the series.

His passenger told him to relax. It was only Game 3. The Flyers trailed, only 2-1, to New York.

That was the behind-the-scenes.

This is what he said in front of the cameras that night, about an hour before his rant in the car:

"We'll be ready for Game 4," Giroux said. "We're going to tie up this series and go back to New York. We just have to stay confident. It's the playoffs. It's exciting."

That one, small glimpse was to say the public persona and the private person are two different animals.

On Wednesday, Giroux was hammered in a scathing article that linked his performance as the Flyers' captain to his words in front of the recorders.

"That's bull[bleep]," Wayne Simmonds said. "It has nothing to do with team leadership or how good of a captain he is. He goes out there every single shift and plays his heart out. For [that writer] to even speculate that 'G' is not a good leader is a joke. It's embarrassing."

No, what is said publicly, truly has zero correlation to the Flyers' leadership group or wins and losses, for that matter. Yes, some reporters are around the team every day and in the locker room, but even the best in the business barely have a clue exactly what goes on behind closed doors. To pretend otherwise is foolhardy.

Giroux won't give the "good sound" every media member craves, but so what? Plenty of other players provide color. Treatment of media - good, bad, indifferent - should never be part of the equation, let alone used as criticism for someone who almost always answers the bell and speaks.

In fact, Giroux acknowledged after the Flyers' optional morning skate yesterday in St. Louis that he usually needs to cool down following a game to collect his thoughts. His words are controlled - and contrived - on purpose.

"I think it's important you take a second to breathe and know what really happened, to know to not say stuff that you don't want to say," Giroux said. "I think everybody is like that. It's important to take a second a look at the bigger picture than the smaller picture."

Giroux takes pride in being the Flyers' captain, even though in this town, for whatever reason, it means dealing with more criticism.

"This team is one of the most important things in my life," Giroux said. "I take it to heart. It means a lot to me how this team plays, how this team goes. I care a lot for these players. We always try to do our best for the team. I come to the rink every day, and I'm happy to be around this team. I get up in the morning, and I'm pretty excited to come to the rink."

In truth, the idea of the captaincy in hockey is a vastly overrated concept. Too much focus is directed on one player. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday the team's leadership committee must be examined, but made a point to say not Giroux.

"Leadership doesn't come down to one guy anymore," Hextall said. "Those days are over. It's typically five, six, seven guys who can add to it on a team that you depend on for the bulk of your leadership. It's not one guy, or even three guys for that matter."

Other than the coaching position, the captain usually follows as the next logical scapegoat on a hockey team that fails to meet expectations.

Few take into account the more likely reasons for missing the Stanley Cup playoffs are roster construction and the fact certain players failed to meet standards set in previous seasons. The Flyers have quite a few of those passengers this season.

It didn't help, either, that the Flyers traded away both of their alternate captains from last season - Scott Hartnell last June and Kimmo Timonen just before the March 2 trading deadline. Coach Craig Berube acknowledged the Flyers missed Timonen's "calming influence" in the locker room. Timonen did not play for the Flyers this season, as he recovered from blood clots.

Even so, Giroux said he would not change anything this season about how things have been handled from a captain's perspective.

"We're obviously not in the situation that we want to be in right now," Giroux said. "We made a lot of mistakes that cost us that. It's not one, two or three players - it's everybody that comes together.

"I think we had times during the year that we played very good hockey, we played as a team, and our chemistry was really good. I don't know how to explain [our troubles]. When we have big games, we find a way to play at our best. I don't know if we're not ready, or our motivation isn't as good, when we play against teams that are not as good. It's obviously something we've got to look at."

Whether against contender or bottom feeder this season, it is impossible to point to Giroux and say he did not give it his all. He's been remarkably consistent this season. Facing top competition with a thin roster behind him, he's still managed 61 points in 67 games, good for 16th in the NHL.

Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Giroux has 10 more points than the next closest player, Evgeni Malkin. Think about that for a second. That list includes Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

"I think 'G' and the leaders have done a good job, to be honest with you," Berube said. "They prepare themselves, night in and night out, to compete hard, to work hard and perform at the same time. It's still a learning process for these guys. Giroux is still a young captain. They're all learning still."

Luke Schenn pointed out that only a very few young captains have everything figured out from the moment they get the "C,'' and Giroux is right there with them.

"It's kind of funny that stories come out like that," said Schenn, who has dealt with some media in Toronto. "It's all about what the guys in the dressing room think and the respect they have for him, which is all of our respect.

"Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. There's only so much you can say. I've had guys in the past who are rah-rah guys every day, and that gets a little old after a while, too. He's not the most talkative guy, but when he steps up and says something, he has the respect of the room, and every guy listens. I don't think there's any question in our dressing room or organization that he's our captain and will be for the future."

Giroux is a realist. He understands scrutiny comes with the territory, and even laughed off the premise. He is as frustrated as the fans buying tickets.

No one lobbed these claims last season when Giroux declared after a 1-7-0 start that the Flyers would make the playoffs.

"That's why I don't bother with you guys [the media]," Giroux said, laughing. "You know what, being in this position we're in now, it's something that we want to change, but we understand it's a process. We're learning the hard way right now."

On Twitter: @frank_seravalli