The Philadelphia Flyers began training camp on Sunday in front of more than 3,000 fans at the Skate Zone in Voorhees as the Flyer faithful turned out to celebrate the start of a new, albeit shortened season.
Many fans and analysts alike also believe they were witnessing the beginning of the Claude Giroux era, as reports like this one from USA Today's Dave Isaac have speculated that Giroux is in line to take over Chris Pronger's role sooner rather than later.
The decision seems to be an obvious one to most Flyers fans. Anyone who would attempt to argue that Giroux is not the face of the Flyers would be hard-pressed to explain why hockey fans voted him the face of EA Sports' NHL 13. His popularity, talent and leadership are all undeniable attributes, and his work ethic has allowed the Flyers to distance the franchise from the "party boy" reputation that former captain Mike Richards and his partner in crime, Jeff Carter, brought upon the team.
It appears the team has a vacancy in the top leadership role, as an NHL.com training camp report captured GM Paul Holmgren's pessimism with regards to Pronger's future as a player:
"Down the road? I guess you could say slight chance," he said when asked about Pronger's chances of playing, "but I’d probably classify it as highly unlikely. Nothing’s changed."
However, the Flyers shouldn't be too hasty to make Giroux captain, just yet.
The last major image that Flyers fans have of Giroux, aside from his mug on the aforementioned video game cover, is not of Giroux wearing his unmistakable No. 28 jersey while skating off the ice at the Wells Fargo Center.
Instead, Giroux's 2011-12 farewell featured a different attire: a grey-checkered suit and tie, with his skates replaced by slick, shined shoes.
Giroux watched his team get eliminated from the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs from the press box while he served a one-game suspension for a hit to the head of New Jersey's Dainius Zubrus.
The video of the hit shows exactly why Giroux still has some growing to do before he is ready for the captain's role. Upset at the officials for not calling Devils netminder Martin Brodeur for handling the puck outside the trapezoid, Giroux turns to yell at a referee before skating back to the defensive zone, clearly irate, and throwing his body into Zubrus.
It could be argued that Giroux was not targeting the head of Zubrus and instead connected with his crown only when Zubrus left himself defenseless by swiping at Giroux, but the point is moot. The hit took place in the waning seconds of the period with the Flyers trailing, immediately after Giroux had been angrily yelling at officials.
The team had nothing to gain from Giroux's physicality. As the period was about to end, they would have gained no momentum from the hit, even if it had been clean.
The circumstances surrounding the play likely made it easier for disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to call for a suspension. Clearly, Giroux appeared to be throwing his body around out of sheer frustration, making an already borderline hit seem downright dirty.
As a result of his actions, the team suffered, not only in that Game 4 but again in Game 5, when its best player watched from the stands as the season came to an end.
Emotion in a captain can be an invaluable trait, but it has to be controlled emotion. It is just as important for a team's leader to know when not to make a play as it is to know when to make one.
Teammate Kimmo Timonen is one of the longest-tenured players on the team and is in the final year of his contract and possibly his career. Timonen has served as an alternate captain for years and unlike Giroux, he has a virtually untainted record with regard to his leadership.
Paul Holmgren and head coach Peter Laviolette would be doing Giroux a favor by giving him an extra half-season as an alternate captain before fully placing the burden on his shoulders.
Giroux's leadership style is similar to Timonen's, in that both are quiet in front of a microphone (unlike Pronger) but lead by example, through their work ethic and responsibility (unlike Richards). Giroux would benefit from seeing how Timonen handles a locker room as a more soft-spoken captain who still demands the highest of results.
Similarly, making Giroux captain now means putting him in charge of a very young team. Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Erik Gustafsson, Scott Laughton and Marc-Andre Bourdon are all entering either their first or second year in the NHL, and being captain of a young team brings on more pressure than being captain of a more seasoned squad.
By waiting a season, all of these players, and Giroux himself, will gain another year of experience, making Giroux's job easier in 2013-14.
The Flyers made a mistake by rushing Mike Richards to the role of captain. He was the best pick at the time, but the team brought in a more effective leader in Pronger soon afterward, and the resulting fracture was poisonous for the team.
The likelihood of similar drama under Giroux is slim, but the circumstances seem ideal to let Giroux incubate as an alternate for another year under Timonen's influence, giving him a smoother transition to a role that will undoubtedly be his someday.
In all likelihood, the Flyers will announce Giroux as captain this week, but if the organization sits back and gives a lot of thought to the weight of the role, they will come to the conclusion that the torch should be passed to Timonen before it is passed to Giroux.