Giroux proves good fit with Panthers, could be key to winning Stanley Cup

by 24USATVMay 6, 2022, 11 p.m. 19
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SUNRISE, Fla. -- One significant difference in Claude Giroux's new hockey life with the Florida Panthers was demonstrated in a recent text to former Philadelphia Flyers teammate Scott Laughton.

It included a photo of Giroux in the pool, enjoying time away from the rink.

"It's always hot out here," Giroux said. "You wake up in the morning and you're putting your shorts and T-shirt and sunglasses on. So it's definitely different, but it's not a bad adjustment to make."

The adjustment has been an easy one for Giroux ever since Philadelphia traded him to Florida on March 19, but the forward didn't waive the no-trade clause in his contract just so he could get an early start on his offseason tan. For Giroux, it was about having the chance to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and win the Cup for the first time in his 15-season NHL career.

Giroux and the Panthers are at the beginning of what they hope will be a long postseason journey, tied 1-1 with the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round heading into Game 3 of the best-of-7 series at Capital One Arena on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVAS, NBCSWA, BSFL). Giroux has been chasing the Stanley Cup long enough to know each playoff experience should be cherished.

The 34-year-old came close to winning it in 2010, when he scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 23 playoff games to help the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. Philadelphia had some promising regular seasons after that but couldn't advance beyond the second round of the playoffs.

"It was my second year, and we went to the Stanley Cup Final and you think you'll get there (every season), but it doesn't work like that," Giroux said. "It's a tough league to win in. It's a tough league to advance. There's a lot of great teams. You can see in the playoffs anybody can beat anybody.

"So you just have to grind it out, and when you have an opportunity like we have this year, you've really got to take it forward."

The opportunity to join the Panthers came during a challenging season when Giroux excelled, scoring 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 57 games before the trade, but the Flyers were devastated by injuries and struggled on their way to finishing 15th in the Eastern Conference and well out of playoff spot with 61 points (25-46-11).

With Giroux eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, Philadelphia traded him for future assets, receiving 23-year-old forward Owen Tippett, a first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft or 2025 NHL Draft, and a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Giroux had control of the situation because of his no-trade clause and Florida was his preferred destination.

"I had a chance to play against them twice during the season and I liked the way that they played," he said. "They have some great talent here and I just thought I would fit in well. … It's one of the best teams I've ever been on, for sure, skill-wise, offensively and our defense and our goalie."

So far, it has worked out as well as Giroux and the Panthers had hoped. Giroux scored 23 points (three goals, 20 assists) in 18 regular-season games after the trade. Florida went 15-3-0 in those 18 games, including a team-record 13-game winning streak from March 29-April 23, and set Panthers records with 58 wins and 122 points to win the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL top team during the regular season.

Giroux scored two points (one goal, one assist) in his first two playoff games with the Panthers.

"He's been awesome ever since he got here," forward Carter Verhaeghe said. "He kind of fit in right away with all the guys and he's a leader on the team. He's been around a long time, so he definitely helps."

Still, leaving Philadelphia was emotional for Giroux. He played his 1,000th and final regular-season game with the Flyers, a 5-4 victory against the Nashville Predators, on March 17 and was traded two days later.

"I love Philly and for two, three days there, it was pretty tough," Giroux said. "But sometimes that's the business side of it, and you just have to move on."

Though Giroux was unable to win the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia, he left behind an indisputable legacy. He was the Flyers captain for 10 seasons and is second in their history with 900 points (291 goals, 609 assists) behind Bobby Clarke (1,210 points; 358 goals, 852 assists).

Giroux also ranks sixth in Philadelphia history with 73 points (25 goals, 48 assists) in 85 playoff games.

"I've talked to 'G' quite a bit and he's missed," Laughton said. "I don't think he was very underappreciated in Philly and what he did on a daily and nightly basis won't be forgotten."

Giroux has quickly settled into living in South Florida. His wife Ryanne, their 2-year-old son Gavin and their 9-month-old son Palmer joined him about a week after the trade, so that helped with the transition off the ice.

"We've been enjoying it," Giroux said. "The weather is great, and the team is great, so there's not a lot of negative."

On the ice, coach Andrew Brunette has used Giroux in several different line combinations, but most often with Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett. In the locker room, Giroux is surrounded by a star-studded group that includes Huberdeau, center Aleksander Barkov, defenseman Aaron Ekblad and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Giroux is new to the team and isn't captain, but he's looked to as a leader because of his experience. That's invaluable for Florida, trying to win its first playoff series since 1996.

"When he's on the ice and when he's on the bench, he's like another coach," Brunette said. "He's seen it all. He's played in all these different moments. And he's like a kid. He just loves the game, and he loves breaking it down. His IQ and how he sees it is off the charts. He's got that leadership ability that guys listen to him and he's vocal on a team that doesn't have a lot of vocal guys."

By coincidence, Giroux's first playoff series with the Panthers is against the Capitals, a team he faced many times with the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division, and their coach, Peter Laviolette. As coach of the Flyers, Laviolette raised some eyebrows when he called Giroux "the best player in the world" during a 2012 playoffs series against center Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Laviolette continues to have great respect for Giroux a decade later.

"He's an impact player that we talk about in different situations, certainly his face-offs, the way plays offense, his hockey sense, power play," Laviolette said. "He does blend in. When you come to Florida and you join their group, he blends in a little bit because they've got a lot of guys that have had really good years. But certainly, still an impact player."

Giroux hopes to make a lasting impact in Florida, though his stay might be limited to few months with unrestricted free agency looming. He said any thoughts of his future beyond this season are "on hold" with his focus on the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup.

That's why he wanted to come here.

"It's been my dream since I was a little kid, you know," Giroux said. "I never thought I would be playing in the NHL, to be honest. I feel your dreams, there's a few steps. The first one is to make the NHL and then it's to win the Cup. And now I'm on my goal No. 2."

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