Giroux not the same after Laviolette's label

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Giroux not the same after Laviolette's label

Claude Giroux hasn’t been the same, and why do you think that is?

The money? No. Giroux is still playing out the final year of a three-year, $11.25-million deal. His eight-year, $66.2-million extension doesn’t kick in until next season.

The captaincy? No. Giroux has taken the honor very seriously, and has embraced his role as the face of a franchise.

It’s “The Label.” Don’t remember?

Immediately after the Flyers disposed of their cross-state rival Penguins in six games in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Giroux went from rising superstar to the king of the NHL mountain. His former coach, Peter Laviolette, rolled out one of those medieval catapults at his postgame press conference and launched Giroux into a hockey stratosphere that has included The Great One and a select few who have been compared to Wayne Gretzky ever since.

“When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, ‘I don’t know who you plan on starting tonight, but I want that first shift.’ That says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there,” Laviolette said at the time.

As he stepped off the stage, Laviolette should have grabbed that pail of red paint used to touch up the goalposts and applied a big, fat bulls-eye onto Giroux’s chest. “The best player in the world” line raised eyebrows and dropped jaws everywhere from Western Pennsylvania to the coastline of British Columbia. It may have come across as a compliment from a head coach to his most-gifted player, but Laviolette’s bold proclamation unloaded a monumental amount of pressure on the shoulders of the Flyers’ best player that simply wasn't needed.

“With that comment, Laviolette tried to move Giroux into the same zip code and neighborhood as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin,” Flyers analyst Al Morganti said. “As it turns out, Giroux is having trouble paying the higher taxes in terms of attention and tighter checking.”

Residency in that neighborhood can only be obtained by achievement, not inherited through opinion. Crosby, Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin all have Hart Trophies with the distinction as the league’s most valuable player. Crosby and Malkin have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup. While Laviolette lauded Giroux, his words were also a slap in the face to those who had the necessary credentials -- especially from the much-hated group down the turnpike.

“In hindsight, he (Laviolette) shouldn’t have said it, but I can understand his heart was in the right place at the time,” said Flyers analyst Rick Tocchet, who lives in Pittsburgh and has heard plenty of feedback and reaction from Penguins fans.

If you think Giroux has been oblivious to the backlash, check his Twitter account, where fans in the other 29 cities have taken a virtual sledge hammer to his reputation in the wake of Laviolette’s words. It all has an impact and it was almost immediate.

Since Laviolette’s declaration, the Flyers were upset by New Jersey in the next round. After scoring 14 points against the Penguins, Giroux was held to just three by the defensive-minded Devils. He was invisible in Games 2 and 3 of that series –- both losses -- and was suspended for the series-clinching Game 5 defeat following a borderline hit to New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus.

The NHL’s awards ceremony that summer in Las Vegas only intensified Giroux’s superstar spotlight. Malkin was awarded the Hart, and the Los Angeles Kings -- with former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter -- were recognized as Stanley Cup champions. But that evening, it was Giroux who claimed the league’s popularity contest when he graced the cover of EA Sports' NHL 13 video game by receiving the majority of the 26 million fan votes that were cast on NHL.com. Suddenly, Giroux was elevated further –- from the league’s best player to the shelves of Best Buy.

It’s been a rough 2013 for Giroux. The Flyers failed to reach the postseason in his first year as captain, and he admitted recently that the capital “C” on his left shoulder can’t be mistaken for confidence.

“The confidence is not there,” Giroux told CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio last week. “I don’t think it’s the hand -– the confidence is just not there. ... It’s a beautiful game. You need to enjoy it. It feels like I’m not enjoying it right now.”

Confidence wasn’t lacking when he requested to take that opening shift on April 22, 2012 when he leveled Crosby and proceeded to score the game’s first goal. Since that day, and over time, it has been stripped away. Now it's up to Giroux to get it back.

Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier know Flyers by now, ready for anything at NHL draft

Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier know Flyers by now, ready for anything at NHL draft

CHICAGO — Nico Hischier was nervous, swaying a bit as he spoke to the media, admitting he had some jitters as this NHL draft approaches on Friday.

About 60 feet away, Nolan Patrick leaned on a stick and said not only was he not nervous, he also really couldn't care less whether he's picked first overall Friday by New Jersey or second by the Flyers because his goal is just to get into the NHL.

"Doesn't matter to me," Patrick said Thursday. "A lot of guys will tell you what you want to hear. That they don't care, but deep down, they do.

"I don't care. It's not going to change my chances in the NHL if I go No. 1 or 4. I'm gonna take it. Where I go is not gonna help me any more. At the end of the day, I've got to work hard."

That said, Hischier is poised to become the highest-drafted Swiss player ever and if he went first overall …

"I would make history and that would make me proud," Hischier beamed. "Really happy, for sure."

Both players participated in Thursday's ball-hockey clinic in a parking lot just across the street from United Center where one of them will go to the Devils and one to the Flyers on Friday night.

"Yeah, I little bit nervous," Hischier admitted. "It's not up to me. I just have to enjoy it."

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall took both players out to dinner separately in Buffalo, New York, earlier this month at the NHL Scouting Combine to try and get a peek behind their personalities (see story).

"We talked about Philadelphia, talked about the club, the goals, what's important for them," Hischier said. "It was good dinner and went well."

Patrick, who is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, said he was impressed with the steakhouse and said what he liked best about the meal was getting into arguments with fellow Manitoban, Hextall, who is from Brandon.

"He's a really nice guy," Patrick said. "It was a fancy steakhouse. I'll take those dinners any day. He knows what he is doing in Philly. If I were lucky enough to go there, I'd be happy.

"I know all about him. He's a Brandon Wheat King. Us Manitobans always going at each other. We got into a few arguments about some of his guys. Manitoba is the best place in the world."

Right now, for a couple hundred hockey players, Chicago is the best place in the world because this is the NHL draft and what happens Friday and Saturday will impact their lives forever.

Which is why Hischier brought his older brother, Luca, here. He plays for Bern in Switzerland where Hischier also was before transferring to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to play for Halifax this past season.

"My idol is my brother," Nico said. "He is playing pro in Bern. We have a good relationship. I'm happy he is here because I can ask him everything, on and off the ice."

Both players have some Flyers familiarity.

Hischier skated with Mark Streit last summer but hasn't talked to him since.

"Last summer, I skated with Streit, [Roman] Josi, [Shea] Weber and those guys," Hischier said. "It was fun."

Patrick played with Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov two years ago in Brandon.

"Talked to Provy two weeks ago," Patrick said. "I was talking to Brayden Schenn the last couple days. Provy works out 10 hours a day."

A few weeks from now, one of these guys will be at the Flyers' developmental camp working out in Skate Zone.

"It's not up to me," Hischier said. "I don't focus on expectations, I don't focus on teams. Everything can happen.

"I'm going to be open for everything and happy, for sure. If it's No. 2 or 3, I'm gonna be happy anyway."

Flyers begin 2017-18 season out West, face Vegas for 1st time in February

Flyers begin 2017-18 season out West, face Vegas for 1st time in February

For the second straight year, the Flyers are beginning the season out West.

The NHL on Thursday released its 2017-18 schedule and as reported Wednesday, the Flyers open the season in San Jose on Oct. 4 as part of a four-game road trip that includes games in Los Angeles, Anaheim and concludes in Nashville on Oct. 10.

They'll return home on Oct. 14 for their home opener against the Washington Capitals that kickstarts a five-game homestand (see story). The Flyers will host the Islanders on Black Friday.

Flyers fans will have to wait a while for their first taste of the Vegas Golden Knights. The Flyers will face the Golden Knights for the first time on Feb. 11 in Vegas.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and the Golden Knights come to Philadelphia on March 12.

The Flyers will end the season at home against the New York Rangers.

You can see the Flyers' full schedule here (and buy tickets here).