Claude Giroux’s fun new world with the Florida Panthers

Claude Giroux was asked if playing for the Florida Panthers is as fun as it looks.

“Well, we win,” he said. “So here is.”

Giroux, 34, had a classic glow in the NHL’s trade deadline, moving from the lottery-bound Philadelphia Flyers to the Panthers, who won the Presidents’ Trophy for best regular season record. He went from almost basement to penthouse, from gloom to cheerfulness.

He also went from a team that was 31st in goals per game to a team that had the best scoring average (4.11) of any team since the 1995-96 season. Watching a Panthers game can be both exhilarating and exhausting as they pick up the pace and constantly create offensively.

“You kind of learn to manage your ice time. When to go and when to rest,” Giroux recently told ESPN. “It definitely took me a few games. It’s a high pace. It’s about supporting each other, knowing where your teammates are. When you get used to it, your job becomes a little easier. But it’s was definitely an adjustment.”

There have been other adjustments for Giroux since joining the Panthers, having played in 18 regular season games and three playoff games with them. Like adapting to a new climate, shipping to Sunrise, Florida when Philadelphia was still in a cold winter.

“It’s sunny and warm on the beach, so it’s different,” he said, admitting he still had some South Florida wardrobe shopping to do.

But perhaps the biggest adjustment for Giroux: going from being the face of his franchise to being one of many for the Panthers.

How does it feel to welcome Claude Giroux to your team at the trade deadline?

“For someone who’s been in Philly for as long as he has been, kind of being the face of the franchise for a while, we all understood that when you’ve been in a certain place for a long time and you come to a new place, it’s probably hard enough for him,” Panthers interim coach said. Andre Brown. “But I think he fits in really well. He came in with a very selfless heart.”

The last time Giroux walked into a new NHL locker room was in 2008, when he made his debut. Giroux was drafted 22nd overall in 2006 by Philadelphia, a promising forward from Gatineau in the Quebec Major Junior League. For the next 15 seasons and 1,000 games, he would become a star with the Flyers. He had 900 points, including 609 assists, while he’s 10th among active players in assists. In his best season in Philadelphia, he had 102 points and finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting in 2017-18.

In 2012, his coach Peter Laviolette called Giroux “the best player in the world” after dominating Sidney Crosby knocking the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the playoffs – a hyperbolic boast that has followed Giroux throughout his career.

“He brings a lot of different things,” said Laviolette, now the Capitals’ coach against the Giroux Panthers in their first-round series. “He’s a top player. He adds balance and depth to an attack that already has a lot of power.”

Giroux’s departure from Philadelphia was surreal. An unrestricted free agent pending this offseason, he had a full no-move clause in his contract, controlling whether he would be traded and to whom.

On St. Patrick’s Day, when his departure from the Flyers was virtually inevitable, Giroux played his 1,000th career game. The night turned into a long farewell party. His teammates took to the ice for warm-ups in jerseys emblazoned with his number 28, nameplate and captain’s “C” on the front. These teammates hit their sticks on the ice as Giroux circled the ice to greet the fans after the game.

“I feel like I had a great relationship with the fans and the city. I understand them. They understand me,” Giroux said after the game.

Four days later, he took his talents to South Florida.

“He’s a one-of-a-kind player,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said after the trade.

Laviolette saw it with his own eyes when he coached Giroux for five seasons in Philadelphia. “He’s an impact player that we talk about in different situations, certainly his faceoffs, his way of playing offensively, his hockey sense, his power play,” said Laviolette.

Laviolette felt the wealthy got richer when Florida acquired Giroux. “When you come to Florida and join their group, it kind of fits in because they have a lot of guys who had really good years,” he said.

Integration was new for Giroux. He had been the veteran Flyers captain and the franchise’s biggest star for about a decade.

“It’s definitely different. When you’re captain for so many years, the organization relies on you for a lot of things. Coming here, I’m really not in that position anymore. It’s definitely a change,” said he declared.

Brunette was happy to add it to a play that includes the captain of the Panthers Alexander Barkov and former captain of the San Jose Sharks Joe Thorton.

“You can never have too many old captains in your room, that’s for sure.”

How does it feel to play with Claude Giroux?

“Horrible,” said the Panthers star Jonathan Huberdeau, smiling broadly. “No, he’s been great. Such a good person. A good guy. He knows the game so well.”

Despite that experience, it took him a few games to settle with the Panthers after joining, saying “creating chemistry with guys you’ve never played with before” was his biggest challenge.

“It takes more than one game or training. It’s about being in a situation during the game where you can read your teammates. It certainly wasn’t there at the start, but you slowly learn where the guys are going to be and you keep building on that,” he said.

Soon, he found a unique chemistry with Huberdeau, the Panthers’ 28-year-old star left winger. The duo was nicknamed “Girouxberdeau” by the locals. By the end of the regular season, Giroux had amassed 23 points in 18 games with the Panthers.

“He’s someone special. He made it through the playoffs, reached the finals. We need that experience,” Huberdeau said. “When he speaks, people will listen to him.”

Off the ice, Giroux was like an exchange student joining classes in the final weeks of senior year. The Panthers team chemistry was well established.

“We have a tight dressing room,” said Huberdeau. “Obviously when you bring in a guy who was captain of another team, he’s confident. He knows what he can do.”

Giroux said he was happy to fit in, despite his pedigree and stardom.

“I’m a true believer that you don’t need [a letter] carry out. But you come to a new team and there’s a leadership group together, and you just try to complement them and be able to help them,” he said. I’m not going to change who I am, whether it’s speaking my voice or trying to lead by example.”

Brunette appreciates this leadership. He appreciates Giroux’s adaptability, having played him with Huberdeau and on a line with the rookie center Anton Lundel. Above all, he appreciates Giroux’s determination to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career.

“He just wants to win. Guys like that fit right in with the team,” Brunette said.

Especially when being part of the team is so enjoyable.

“We go out there and have fun. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re so successful,” Giroux said.


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