VOORHEES, N.J. -- Almost exactly a year ago, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette proclaimed Claude Giroux the "best player in the world."
But in 2013, the Flyers’ first-year captain looked only like a very good player, netting just 13 goals in 48 games and seldom executing the on-ice magic he made look effortless last season.
That said, Laviolette was pleased with what he saw from Giroux in the 25-year-old’s first year wearing the “C” on his chest -- both in spite of the team’s rough season and because of it.
“I think he did a terrific job as the captain of the team,” Laviolette said at Sunday's team break-up day. “It was a tough year for a first-year captain, and I think he did a really good job. He has terrific leadership qualities. He's driven. He is an excellent teammate.
“I think sometimes when you're not successful -- or not as successful as you'd like to be -- you really get to, whether you want to or not, use and try that leadership, and it becomes more in the forefront.”
Giroux didn’t exactly struggle this season. He led the Flyers in points with 48, and his goal total ranked third, behind only Jakub Voracek (22) and Wayne Simmonds (15). But there were plenty of times when he simply didn’t look like the player he was last season, or even the season before.
This was the first time in Giroux’s NHL career that he didn’t take a step forward with the new year. However, that doesn't mean he wasn't successful in his first season as captain, according to general manager Paul Holmgren, especially because of weird schedule and shortened season.
“Claude’s a young captain put into a situation where [there was] a 48-game schedule coming out of the lockout,” Holmgren said. “I think he performed admirably under those circumstances.”
As for the captain himself, Giroux had one very simple takeaway from his first year wearing the "C."
“Can’t really put a lot of pressure on yourself,” he said. “Obviously, there’s more responsibility, but you’ve got to go out there and play, just play your game. That’s pretty much it.”
Giroux didn’t say whether he feels he put too much pressure on himself this year. But from an outsider’s perspective, that does seem to be, at least partially, the case. He seemed particularly frustrated at times -- like all the players in the Flyers’ locker room -- but he seemed to take on too much responsibility for the Flyers' losing ways. By all accounts, that seemed to affect his play on the ice.
The good news, though, is that he absolutely should be able to learn from it. He will emerge from this season a stronger, more experienced leader.
And, this summer, his plan is no different from that of last summer or the one that preceded it.
"Obviously, it’s the same thing every summer," Giroux said. "Just go lift some weight and try to get faster and stronger. That’s what the game’s all about, how fast you can be and how strong you can be. Just got to focus on that."
Despite his being a novice captain, and despite the many questions that faced the team ahead of this lockout-shortened season, expectations were high on both Giroux and the Flyers as a whole. But Giroux is young, despite his five years of NHL experience, and he had big skates to fill in taking over the captaincy: Chris Pronger, who played his last game way back in November 2011, was the Flyers' last captain.
But, Giroux said, he didn't set goals or expectations for himself -- or the team as a whole -- this year.
“There’s no real expectations,” Giroux said. “I think it’s just go out there, play your game. Like I said, we have new pieces to the team and stuff, so you can see at the end of the season we got together, got closer, and started playing our game a little bit more.
"Can’t blame anybody but ourselves for not being in the playoffs.”