After Claude Giroux was called the greatest player in the world by Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette following the Flyers' opening-round Stanley Cup playoff win over Pittsburgh, it sounded as though Giroux would be elevated to team captain by the start of the next playoff series.
That honor currently rests with defenseman Chris Pronger, who is out indefinitely with a concussion.
After starting the deciding Game 6 against Pittsburgh with a faceoff win and an opportunistic hard check on Sidney Crosby, Giroux scored a goal just 32 seconds into the game to light the fuse for the Flyers.
"To me, he's the best player in the league right now," Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said of Giroux, who led the NHL in playoff scoring after the Pittsburgh series with six goals and eight assists for 14 points. "He's our motor, our engine. As he goes, we go."
Giroux's Game 6 actions are already legendary. He told Laviolette he didn't know who the coach planned to start for Game 6, but that he wanted the first shift. And when Laviolette gave it to him, Giroux delivered in Mark Messier fashion.
"He was so adamant about wanting that first shift," Laviolette said. "Line matchups didn't matter at that point. He wanted to get out on the ice. He wanted to make a statement. … For him to come up and say that before the game, I think it speaks volumes about him as who he is, not only a player and his skill, but about who he is as a person."
Flyers forward Max Talbot said Giroux predicted the opening minutes of Game 6.
"Claude called it for me before the game," Talbot said. "He said, 'I'm going to have a great first shift.' I didn't know what it meant, and he was physical and he scored a goal, so that's what a leader would do."
Giroux doesn't need the added weight of the captain's "C" on his sweater. He already wears the "A" of assistant captain and leads by on-ice and off-ice example. As Giroux goes, so go the Flyers. It's the embodiment of what the team hoped for all those years ago when it traded for big Eric Lindros, who never turned into the leader the Flyers had imagined.
"I'm not worried about that kind of stuff right now," said Giroux. "That's the least on my mind. We need everybody on the same page."
"He's just their best player on the ice," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said, "but I don't think we were surprised by that; maybe two years ago we would be surprised by that. He's a guy we are well aware of and have a tremendous respect for."
Richards came to Philadelphia tagged as the next Bobby Clarke, but it was Giroux who drew comparisons to the young Clarke — who led the Flyers to their only two Stanley Cups in the 1970s — from team chairman Ed Snider during the Stanley Cup finals loss to Chicago two years ago. Snider made the same comparison after the Flyers eliminated the Pens.
"Claude Giroux is certainly a tremendous young leader not only on our team, but maybe in the game, and he's really starting, I think, to spread his wings in that direction," Laviolette said following Tuesday's team practice in Voorhees, N.J.
"He's probably the biggest competitor I've ever played with," said feisty Scott Hartnell, who scored a career and team-high 37 goals this season while playing primarily on a line with Giroux. "He wants to win so bad."
Giroux, meanwhile, finished third overall in the league in scoring with 28 goals and 65 assists for 93 points. All three figures were career highs, and the 65 assists were second in the league.
Giroux's competitiveness was evident all season, and he has elevated that effort in the playoffs.
"It's [the] playoffs," he said. "You need to block a shot. You need to make a hit. You need to do the little things that maybe you don't want to do. When you block a shot or get a hit, after the game, if you know you've done everything you can to win, it's the best feeling of satisfaction."
That satisfaction is certainly shared with the fans. After his monster first shift against the Penguins in Game 6, instead of celebrating just with teammates, Giroux skated fast to the glass and executed a "high 10" with the rinkside fans while the rest of the Flyers came over to join in the celebration.
It is that type of sharing the joy that puts Giroux in the same sentence as former players such as Clarke, Keith Primeau and others.
Giroux also has shown he is willing to pay the price, whether it's taking an illegal stick to the head from James Neal, delivering the open-ice hit on Crosby, going down to block a shot or delivering an important goal.
It's called leading by example. And the added weight of a captain's "C" has nothing to do with it.