Rarely do you get the symmetry of a player playing his 1,000th game in the NHL, all with the same team, at home, while it also serves as their last game in that uniform before he’s traded to a contender. It’s hard to not see the diverging stories. A player giving his entire career to an organization, being good enough to last for 1,000 games with just one team and be captain, and yet the team and player unable to get to where everyone wants to go. And because of that, because the 1,000 games came up just that amount short, they’re both better off chasing the summit away from each other. It’s almost perfect in its devastation.
Claude Giroux passed that mark last night in Philly, and it will likely be his last game with the Flyers. 1,000 games, 10 seasons as captain, 900 points. Giroux went through it all with the Flyers, coming up when they were at their best and coming as close as they ever did to winning a Cup, an unholy terror on the third line the Hawks had no answer for in 2010. But it wasn’t quite enough, as the Hawks’ best was better than the Flyers’ best above Giroux. Giroux was there for other contending teams, some teams were simply awful, and all the other kinds in between. There were false dawns, complete failures, surprise runs, and all of it short by some degree.
Giroux came up as something of a pass-first, playmaking center, to an all-action, do-it-all one, to a more one-dimensional sniper on the wing in his later years. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is that he drove Sidney Crosby absolutely nuts in the first half of the 2010s, with Crosby openly admitting in the press how much he couldn’t stand Giroux. It might have even kept Giroux off the 2014 Olympic team, because Hockey Canada would never want to upset its precious child in Sid. Hey, USA Basketball kept Isiah Thomas at home while the Dream Team went to Barcelona because Michael Jordan wouldn’t play with him. It happens.
But now Giroux is just old enough, and just movable enough with his contract ready to run out after the season, that he doesn’t need to be around for yet another Flyers rebuild/building collapse that they tend to spin into every five years or so. Giroux has only so little time left on the ice, and he’s not going to waste it waiting for the Flyers again. It’s likely the Panthers for him now, though the Avs have been calling.
Giroux is yet another Flyers linchpin who couldn’t quite get there. He joins the likes of Eric Lindros, Rick Tocchet, John LeClair, Mike Richards, even Chris Pronger who either left without any baubles or couldn’t bring the silverware they’d already won back to Philly with them. And in some ways, it’s the natural state of the Flyers. They may not have hockey’s longest championship drought, but they have the loudest one south of the border (they’ll never match the Leafs). It’s a weird combination with the Flyers and their faithful, a self-loathing matched with a self-righteousness, though a lot of fanbases get that. The Flyers are still married to the Bullies persona of the 70s of grit and toughness and beating the shit out of everyone, but that hasn’t produced too many parades since 1975.
Not that the Flyers have been trying to mimic Bobby Clarke’s era lately, because you can’t in today’s NHL. But the Flyers can’t get this one right either. Perhaps no other city happily defines its most historic athletes with the fact they didn’t win a championship more than Philly. Iverson, Barkley, Lindros, it’s right at the top of any biography. Because no city is quite as happy being miserable as Philadelphia. There’s really no one left to do it now, what with what’s become of Boston. Sports will always matter on the East coast more for a variety of reasons (the weather sucks, it’s expensive and crowded and only getting more so, chances are there’s a gas leak, and it will probably fall into the ocean before too long. Who wouldn’t need a distraction?) And Philly is the last one in the pit to still be stuck in the mire. Imagine if Nick Foles hadn’t gone on that three-week heater or Cole Hamels hadn’t been born?
Giroux was great. He wasn’t enough by himself. The Flyers couldn’t surround him with enough. It’s an old story now. That’s how they really celebrate there, gives the players more mystique. More tragic, especially if he collects a ring somewhere else. It’s the new Philadelphia Story. Happy trails, G.