Claude Giroux is the most valuable player

 

The Los Angeles Kings won the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup most of all because Jonathan Quick had a historic run in the postseason.

Other players, like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Drew Doughty, helped a lot but that’s all they did–they helped. If the Kings will spend the next season as defending champions, it’s because of Quick.

Carter and Richards, once upon a time, were members of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, notably when the team lost the Stanley Cup in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks two seasons ago. But don’t put two and two together and say that the Flyers should have kept the two players–Philadelphia traded Carter and Richards, because the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Kings gave them great packages in return.

At the 2012 NHL Awards Gala, the NHL announced its first- and second-team All-Stars–and the Flyers’ Claude Giroux wasn’t selected. The native of Hearst, Ont., finished the 2011-2012 regular season as the league’s third leading scorer with 28 goals, 65 assists for 93 points. Only Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (i.e. 97 points) and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (i.e. 109 points) had more. Better yet, even though the Flyers lost in the second round of the playoffs Giroux still finished as the fourth leading scorer with 17 points–a mere three points behind Brown and Kopitar, the leaders, who played 10 more games than him. In short, few players in the league were better than Giroux this season, but the 24-year-old still didn’t make the All-NHL teams.

But he sure deserved to. Giroux deserved a spot over the Penguins’ James Neal, who made the first team for the sole reason that he plays with Malkin–who, admittedly, is the one forward who definitely deserved it over Giroux. The Flyers forward is a better player and had a better season for a better team than the Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk, who made the first team as well. At the very least, Giroux should have made the second team. He deserved to over the Rangers’ Marian Gaborik, who probably made it only because he plays for the first-place New York Rangers. And Giroux deserved it over the Phoenix Coyotes’ Ray Whitney too, because everything that Whitney does Giroux can do better and Whitney is little more than a cute, nice story. (And don’t say that the NHL wants to respect the forward positions with its selections–Neal and Kovalchuk are both listed as a left wings while Giroux is down as a right wing.) Maybe Stamkos gets the nod over Giroux despite the fact that he plays on a terrible team, because he scored 60 goals and 60-goal scorers are rare.

But do you know what else is rare? A team trading away the two players who were supposed to be its core, its two superstars of the next 10 to 15 years. Richards and Carter were part of the famed 2003 NHL Entry Draft and the hope was that they could, in due time, bring another championship to the City of Brotherly Love at long last. They came close enough in 2010, but this might have been the worse thing that happened to them. If the Flyers lost in six games against Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals, it was because Danny Brière couldn’t be stopped–Carter was injured while Richards’s play dipped in the finals. Richards and Carter proved that year that they were probably not much better than the anchors of the second line on a championship team–which, of course, they reiterated again with the LA Kings–but they were signed to monstrous contracts–a 12-year, $69 million deal for Richards, and an 11-year, $58 million one for Carter. Somehow, general manager Paul Holmgren had the opportunity to trade the two players and, most importantly, their contracts and reload with a few new and cheaper players. He did so because he knew he still had a star.

Claude Giroux arrived in Philadelphia with little fanfare as a member of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. When then-GM Bobby Clarke stepped to the podium to announce him as the team’s selection with the 22nd pick, he famously forgot his name. After being drafted, Giroux dominated the QMJHL to the tune of 112 points, and then managed 106 points for an encore in the following season before scoring six points in 7 games at the World Junior Hockey Championships. Giroux made the jump to the American Hockey League in the 2008-2009 season, scoring 34 points in 33 games, and then, 27 points in 42 games with the big boys of Philly that same season. Since, he’s been steadily improving in the NHL.

Two things make Claude Giroux a special player. First, he tends to get better as the stakes get higher–look no further than at his 21 points in 23 postseason during Philadelphia’s 2009-2010 postseason run when he was still just a 22-year-old with 124 games of experience in the NHL. But before making the Stanley Cup finals with Michael Leighton between the pipes, Philadelphia had waited until the 82nd game to qualify for the postseason with a 2-1 shootout win over the New York Rangers where, fittingly, Giroux scored the winning goal. (Also of note is that Richards missed his own attempt.) And of course he scored, because Giroux is one the most lethal players on a breakaway in the entire league.

Giroux is also special because he controls the flow of the game like only the Evgeni Malkins, the Pavel Datsyuks, and the Sidney Crosbys of the NHL can. It starts at the face-off circle where Giroux was among the league leaders this season with a 53.7 percent success rate–much, much better than Malkin’s 47.5 percent and Stamkos’s 45.5 percent. The young Canadian isn’t overpowering physically, like Malkin is for example, and because of that the easiest way to possess the puck remains to win the face-off–and Giroux does that more often than not. And once Giroux has the puck, he tends to keep it.

Perhaps no player had more on his shoulders than he did entering this season. The team had traded away Carter and Richards and decided to build around him as the cornerstone of a young team with a talented, young and new nucleus. Despite this pressure, Giroux exceeded expectations as he made Jaromir Jagr relevant again and ensured that Scott Hartnell’s next contract will be a fat one. It’s a joy to watch him set up teammates on the powerplay just as much as it is to watch him shut down the opponent’s best players on the penalty kill. There are few things that Giroux doesn’t do well, and better than most, on a hockey rink.

But instead of an all-NHL nod, he gets the EA Sports NHL 13 cover. Call this the Claude Giroux snub.