BY MIKE BROPHY,sportsnet.ca
When it comes to getting bang for the bucks, nobody gave more to a team last season than Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux.
The Flyers 23-year-old right winger, playing in his second full season in the NHL, recorded career-highs in goals (25) and assists (51) for 76 points which ranked him 13th overall in league scoring. And he did it all for a mere $765,000. For those of you who don’t have a calculator handy, that’s $10,065.79 per point. By contrast Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who suffered through a sub par season last year by his own lofty standards, collected 32 goals and 85 points in 79 games – or $105,882.35 per point – on a contract that pays him $9 million a season. That ranked him No. 10 on the list. Corey Perry, the NHL’s Hart Trophy winner as the most valuable player, ranked 15th.
“I did not know that,” said Giroux with a laugh when told about his supreme ranking as the NHL best bargain in Canadian Business’ second-annual Puck Money feature. “That is interesting.”
What Giroux does know, however, is how blessed he was to be a productive member of the Flyers, a team that went to the Stanley Cup final two years ago and hopes to get back this season.
“I am very lucky because every day at practice when I was working on my game, I was up against the likes of Chris Pronger, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Danny Briere,” Giroux said, who has a new contract that will pay him $2.75 million this season, $3.5 million the following year and $5 million in Year 3 of the deal. “You can’t help but get better when you are on the ice and working with those guys. I watch the things they do and it inspires me to greater heights. Just trying things against those guys makes you a better player.”
Giroux has steadily improved his play and also his role with the Flyers. Philadelphia’s first round pick, 22nd overall, in the 2006 NHL entry draft, Giroux started his first year of pro in the minors with the Philadelphia Phantoms, but was called up midway through the year and hasn’t looked back since. After scoring 17 goals and 34 points in 33 American Hockey League games with the Phantoms, the 5’11, 175-pound right winger from Hearst, Ont., managed nine goals and 27 points in 47 games with the Flyers. He took his game to the next level in the playoffs scoring two goals and five points in six games.
Since then he has been a player the Flyers count on for production. In fact, his development was one of the reasons why the Flyers felt comfortable in moving captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter this summer. You might think the loss of Richards and Carter will make Giroux more of a target for opposing checkers, but Flyers GM Paul Holmgren thinks the kid is already on everybody’s radar.
“When we played against Buffalo last season he was always out against Tyler Myers and against Boston he was out against Zdeno Chara,” Holmgren said. “I think he’ll continue to be the main focus of the other team’s top checkers, but that is no different than any other top scorer in the NHL. They have to learn to succeed when playing against those guys.”
Holmgren believes Giroux has only scratched the surface of how good he can be in the NHL.
“He’s a guy who works hard on his game in the summer to prepare for the season and he works hard in practice,” Holmgren said. “We believe there’s no question he can take his game to a higher level. When you watch him work you know that he wants to be the player that makes a difference. He wants to be the guy late in the game who gets the puck. He wants to be the guy who is the difference between his team winning and losing.”
Giroux led the Flyers in scoring last season and will no doubt be counted on once again as the franchise has undergone a makeover. Besides Richards and Carter, gone are Kris Versteeg, Ville Leino, Sean O’Donnell, Daniel Carcoillo and Darrell Powe. Additions to the club include former superstar Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Maxime Talbot, Andreas Lilja, Brayden Schenn and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
“With so many new players on the team, I think I’ll be able to help them get comfortable in terms of living in Philadelphia and also with our team’s system,” Giroux said.
Pronger, the Flyers new captain, said Giroux is a very valuable member of a team with high expectations. And, Pronger added, there’s a difference between the way Giroux competes versus some of the league’s other gifted offensive players.
“He’s a guy who wants the puck,” Pronger said, “He’s a shifty little guy who can really dangle. And as a defenceman, you are looking for those guys when you get the puck in the defensive zone. A lot of guys who are big scorers like to shoot the puck, but they don’t want to work with it. Giroux wants to create scoring chances with the puck. He has a great shot and he’ll go to the net.”
Giroux said there is a reason why his production has continually gone up since he joined the Flyers.
“Every year you play in the same league you feel more comfortable with your game and with what you can do,’ he said. “I feel like I am a better player when I have the puck versus when I don’t have the puck. And since I’ve been in the league for a few years I know what I can get away with.”