Claude Giroux may not be the best player in the world, as coach Peter Laviolette called him in a moment of playoff euphoria two seasons ago, but the Flyers are undoubtedly built around the 25-year-old center.
It speaks volumes about Giroux's talent that some critics thought he had a "down" season in 2013, even though he led the Flyers with 48 points in 48 games.
Giroux says it was a disappointing year for one reason -- the Flyers failed to make the playoffs for just the second time in the last 18 seasons.
The dissatisfaction from last season, Giroux's first year as captain, wasn't a total loss.
"You just learn from it," said Giroux, one of the NHL's most driven, passionate players. "You start thinking of how you should do it, and I've been lucky to have good veterans (here) at the start of my career. I'm still learning every practice I go on the ice. Every game I know I'm going to take something positive out of it and I go from there."
Even though the Flyers failed to make the playoffs, Laviolette was impressed with Giroux's leadership during the lockout-shortened season.
"I think Claude did a terrific job last year as captain of this team in a tough situation," Laviolette said. "It's not easy when you're not finding the success you want, especially in a city like Philadelphia where there's an expectation to be successful. So for a young captain, sometimes that can be a stressful situation. I think he did an amazing job -- and I'm not just saying that -- with the way he handled himself and the way he handled this team. That's growing leadership."
It was a strange season for the Flyers. They started 2-6 and huffed and puffed the rest of the way, never winning more than two in a row until they won the season's final four games. They finished 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 23-22-3 record and 49 points.
"I can tell you as a coach, you don't just learn from the good times," Laviolette said. "Sometimes you learn a lot more from the bad times, and that's when you really dig in and you have to work and have to figure (things out). I think the same can be said for a captain, as well."
The offseason additions of center Vinny Lecavalier and defenseman Mark Streit, two captains with their former teams, figure to ease Giroux's leadership burden.
"They know what to say, they know how to act, so they're obviously guys I'm going to be leaning toward," Giroux said.
"Claude is the captain and the leader," said Lecavalier, who added: "We're all going to help each other to push each other and make decisions."
A few days ago, Giroux kidded that Laviolette had put pressure on him when he called him "the best player in the world" in 2012. Laviolette made the comment after Giroux keyed a 5-1, series-clinching win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, a game in which he leveled Sidney Crosby in the opening moments and scored shortly thereafter, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead after 32 seconds.
"I'm sure there's varying opinions as to who the greatest player in the world is," Laviolette said on Monday. "I like the fact that Claude Giroux is here for the Philadelphia Flyers. I stand by my words."
To get to that level, Giroux will probably need to put together some Crosby-like seasons in which he reaches triple digits. So far, his best season was in 2011-12, when he collected 28 goals and 93 points -- and had space-clearing Jaromir Jagr as his right winger and Scott Hartnell on the left side.
Hartnell and Giroux had career-best seasons that year.
This year, Hartnell -- ineffective last season after breaking his foot and missing 16 games -- and the emerging Jake Voracek are his wingers. Each player is capable of having a 30-goal season if they can stay healthy.
Hartnell has returned to good health. Voracek is almost back to normal after injuring his back in an exhibition game eight nights ago, and Giroux has recovered from a bizarre golfing injury he suffered in Ottawa in August. Giroux's pitching wedge inexplicably shattered -- the club hit the grass, far behind the ball -- and splintered into his right index finger, requiring tendon surgery.
The hand is getting stronger each day, said Giroux, who was effective in his only two preseason games.
As for golfing, Giroux has no intentions of retiring from the sport because of the freak injury; he carries an eight handicap.
"I don't think I'll give it up," he said, "but hopefully next summer, I won't have a lot of time to play."
In other words, he wants the team -- his team -- to be on the ice deep into the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
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