Claude Giroux will turn 33-years-old in 13 days. But one thing is abundantly clear – he is not old.
Additionally, he has no interest in talking about his age, his career winding down, or a target date for which he will stop playing hockey. Nor does he really want to discuss how age impacts the way he has to train for a hockey season.
Instead, he decided to do his best Pat Croce impression and said, “I feel great…”
OK, Giroux isn’t great at impressions – at least not publicly. His face was as stoic as ever:
"I'm not worried about my age right now."
– Claude Giroux pic.twitter.com/AgjYnSdUPD
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) December 30, 2020
But you can excuse him if he was a bit surly on the topic. It’s one he’s likely tired of hearing about – or having to answer questions on the matter. It’s one he’s actually proved wrong before and he’s determined to do it again.
Here’s a quick timeline as to why this has become a topic:
- In 2019-20, Giroux had a bit of a down season – for a player of his ilk. He had 53 points in 69 games. It was his lowest point total since he had 48 in 2012-13, but that was a lockout-shortened season and the team only played 48 games. It’s actually more comparable to his 2016-17 season when he had 58 points in 82 games.
- Then, after a long layoff (pause) because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Giroux had a less-than-stellar playoff run when it came to production. In 16 games (three were in that pseudo-important round-robin format) he had just one goal and seven assists. He played well otherwise, but as a guy the team was counting on for production, he didn’t deliver.
- After the Flyers were bounced from the playoffs by the upstart New York Islanders in the Conference semifinals, coach Alain Vigneault alluded to Giroux considering a different training regimen because it becomes tougher to stay in elite shape as you get older.
- Combine the downturn in production with the notion that the coach hinted that Giroux (and his teammates) may not have been in the best shape for the playoffs, and all of the sudden, the vultures start lurking.
He’s too old. He’ll never be the same again. He’s too small to endure the toll the game takes on your body. He’s not as good a player as he used to be. He’s in the twilight of his career.
That’s what prompted two questions in his first press conference since early September from Philadelphia Inquirer beat reporter Sam Carchidi about his age and conditioning.
Giroux took the first one in stride – even if it was the opening salvo of the press conference and was a path he certainly didn’t want to wander down:
Inquirer: “You’re almost 33. Do you have to train differently at this age then, say, when you were 23? Do you have to train harder than you did in your earlier years?”
Giroux: “Not because of the age. When you get older you know what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. You try to adjust and put yourself in a position to succeed and with that you can modify your workouts.”
But the second one, well… that didn’t sit so well:
— Snow The Goalie: A Flyers Podcast (@SnowTheGoalie) December 30, 2020
I tried to capitalize on this building frustration with Giroux and asked him if he had a chip on his shoulder coming off of last season. Initially he said, “Yeah,” but he quickly turned the answer into a team-oriented one and not just about himself.
“The way last season ended left a bad taste in my mouth,” Giroux said. “A lot of the players on our team felt we could have gone a little further last year. Saying that, it was a learning experience for us in the playoffs. Knowing what we did that worked and what we did that didn’t work, it’s important for us to talk about those kinds of things as a team and learn from it.”
It was still a good response, especially the part about it leaving a bad taste in his mouth and being able to talk about it as a group. But it didn’t get to the essence of the driven, determined, and motivated Giroux that I have gotten to know over the years.
This all reminds me of that aforementioned 2016-17 season, the worst of Giroux’s stellar career. He turned 29 halfway through the season. He finished as a minus-15, but his underlying metrics were actually a little bit better than his career averages.
Part of it was he was a little snakebitten. Part of it was the team around him was top heavy and mostly mediocre. Part of it was that the coach wasn’t a good fit. Part of it was, he simply didn’t produce consistently enough, and that’s on him. But, it would be foolish to not accept that there are other factors that led to a subpar season.
There are always a lot of reasons for a players success or failure in sports, and in that season, there were plenty of reasons Giroux appeared to be struggling.
But, the public perception wasn’t any of the real reasons. Instead it was Giroux was getting old. He was about to turn 30 and his durability, which was never called into question, may be a downfall for him as his smaller frame were starting to show signs of an inability to handle the physical rigors of playing in the NHL.
There were those who suggested he can’t be a star again. That he was merely a good player at this point in his career, but that he would never be able to carry a team again.
I remember Giroux getting perturbed when he faced similar questions then. He made many of the same faces you saw in the press conference today.
And how did he respond?
Now, that’s not me predicting Giroux is going to come out and post 70 points this season (the 56-game equivalent of the 102 he had in 2017-18 over 82 games). Nor is it me suggesting Giroux is going to be in the Hart Trophy conversation.
(Just to show why writers shouldn’t vote for anything – Giroux finished fourth in Hart voting that season behind Taylor Hall, Nathan McKinnon and Anze Kopitar, none of which matched his point total, his plus/minus, his Corsi For, his Fenwick or his PDO. Also, Giroux started 54.5 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone compared to Hall (42.7), McKinnon (43.0) and Kopitar (51.9). Voting blunders don’t get more egregious than that. But I digress. Back to present day.)
What I am saying is, knowing how Giroux responds to those who question his abilities, expect a better season from the captain this year, production-wise. He has always faced adversities like this square on and beaten them.
Whether it was being considered undersized as a kid, or learning how to play the game the right way under Peter Laviolette, or being called on a lazy play by Chris Pronger and then standing up to Pronger in the locker room for calling him out publicly, Giroux has always overcome hurdles in his hockey career.
(It should be noted that he and Pronger remain close today, and that Giroux does still reach out to the Hall of Famer for captaincy advice).
This one will be just another on his trip around the track.
Now, will that be enough to make a huge difference for the Flyers?
There are a lot of “ifs” surrounding this team. If more of those ifs end up falling on the positive side of the question, then yes, the Flyers can be as good, if not even better than they were last season, specifically when the pause happened in March and not necessarily where the team was at in August.
But, if the converse happens, the Flyers could be one of the teams scratching and clawing for the final playoff spot in the revamped Eastern Division.
We all know Boston and Washington are very good regular season teams. We saw what the Islanders can do to you. The Penguins are always a thorny opponent who is in the mix. The Rangers are vastly improved. The East is hands down the toughest division in hockey, even with 16 games coming against Buffalo and New Jersey.
It’s going to be quite a test for the Flyers, and Claude Giroux is ready to take that test – even if he’ll turn 40 seven years from now.
For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts Follow @SnowTheGoalie Follow @AntSanPhilly Follow @JoyOnBroad
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