When Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced back on Dec. 15, 2011 that Chris Pronger would be lost for the season with a severe concussion, the most underlying question many wondered was Who would wear the C? Not just in the short term of this season, but beyond that in the event Pronger would never play again.
The logical choice at that time seemed to be Kimmo Timonen, who had served as captain of the Nashville Predators prior to his arrival in Philadelphia. A well-respected veteran, Timonen has always led by example on the ice and has never shied away from speaking his mind when the Flyers have underachieved.
We all believed Claude Giroux would be the eventual captain of this franchise, but conventional wisdom at that time was that he shouldn't be rushed into the role. After all, it was not even four years ago, Sept. 2008, when the Flyers named 23-year-old Mike Richards as the 17th captain in franchise history, a role Richards would theoretically grow into and eventually relish for the next decade.
But something rather interesting happened during Richards' first season as captain. Flyers fans got their first glimpse of a 21-year-old who displayed a different eye-popping move just about every night. You couldnt stop noticing and talking about Girouxs potential.
Giroux proceeded to score 27 points in 42 regular-season games and then followed that up with five points in a first-round loss, ironically to the Penguins back in 2009. It was after Game 6 when the Flyers were eliminated when Chairman Ed Snider gave his parting comments to the media and then made the following comparison that was the only thing that stood out from that series. Snider said, "He (Giroux) reminds me a whole lot of a young Bobby Clarke."
Whoa. Wait ... just ... a ... minute. The kid is good. He dazzles with the puck, but sometimes his craftiness leads to a bad turnover. And now the founder of this storied franchise puts him in the same category as perhaps one of the greatest captains in the history of the NHL and one of the most beloved athletes this city has ever seen?
At the time, I wasnt quite sure what part of Giroux remindEd Snider of Clarke. Clarke inspired teammates, who, in turn, protected their prized captain like he was the Hope Diamond on display. Besides, wasnt this level of praise only intended to be reserved for Richards? He had drawn the "Clarkie" comparisons from the time he was drafted in 2003 and carried on as he won the Calder Cup as captain of the Phantoms. Mike Richards was the franchises four-star general. Wasnt he the next Bob Clarke?
I never thought Richards truly wanted to be captain of the Flyers, at least, at the time.
After Jason Smith served in that capacity in 2008-09, Richards was asked by the assembled media if indeed he wanted to be the next captain of the Flyers. Richards responded by adamantly saying he wasnt ready. At the time, he seemed very serious and honest, and he just didnt want it.
Just four months earlier, Richards had signed a 12-year, 69-million contract extension. Life was moving at 100 miles per hour. He was enjoying his first real productive season and now suddenly he had wealth beyond his imagination. Did he truly want the enormous responsibility that comes with wearing the C?
Then-Flyers coach John Stevens said asking Richards a day or two after the season if he was ready to be captain was unfair to Mike, but I still remember Richards' demeanor and disposition to this day. I dont believe in his heart he was truly ready, and looking back at the situation, some of those within the organization feel it was simply a case of too much, too soon.
Too much money. Too much responsibility. Too much being thrown at Richards at one time.
What were witnessing now with Giroux is what many thought Richards would have evolved into.
Dont get me wrong, I admired Richards game and the way he played. Nothing flashy. Just grit and a blue-collar work ethic. I dont think Richards always exemplified great leadership, on or off the ice, but he handled it the best way he knew how.
Giroux is what most of us thought Richards would eventually become, and what Snider was reminded of back in 2009 -- the next Bobby Clarke.
The recent six-game series against the Pittsburgh Penguins showed the world everything it needs to know about Giroux. Hes the best player on the ice. Hell fight when he needs to and hes intimidated by no one. Future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, who once played along side Mario Lemieux, has already put Giroux on a pedestal typically reserved for the greatest in the game.
It was Giroux who apologized to the Philly fans (Richards and Donovan McNabb never did) after the Flyers fell flat in Game 4. He told reporters how much he loved the pressure entering Game 6, and then backed it up by demanding he not only start the game, but take control of it in the opening minute.
The Flyers made the appropriate move by not naming a captain when they announced Pronger would be gone for the season. Let it play out and see how the guys respond. Theres plenty of leadership within the Flyers' dressing room, and as weve seen, sometimes assigning the captaincy at the wrong time can have irreparable results.
The Flyers had to do what they did this off-season because they knew what they had in Giroux. It wasnt easy, but as were witnessing now, it was necessary.
I remember texting Giroux this past summer after he joined us on "SportsNite" by telephone from his home in Canada the day Richards and Jeff Carter were traded. I thanked him for coming on the show and left it with this is your team now.
He knew it then.
Snider probably knew before then.
Now, we all know it.