SUNRISE, Fla. — The routine never changed. Claude Giroux and his wife Ryanne would find themselves talking daily in recent weeks about their options, if it made sense for the longtime captain of the Philadelphia Flyers to go to a new team, and which one would be the best fit.
The answer never changed, either.
“It was always coming down to Florida,” Giroux said. “It’s something that just feels like it was meant to be.”
The Panthers couldn’t agree more.
After 1,000 games in Flyers orange and black, Giroux was breaking in a new cap bearing Florida red and blue on Monday. The biggest move of the NHL’s trade deadline came over the weekend when the Panthers acquired the veteran forward, and the seven-time All-Star was formally introduced Monday by his new club.
“He wants to win,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. “I got a text from somebody who had played with him, saying ‘you got the ultimate competitor.’ … He checks all the boxes.”
Giroux didn’t expect the season to have turned out this way. He had no designs on leaving Philadelphia, no reason to think that the Flyers would struggle this much and fall out of playoff contention so quickly.
But over the last few weeks, a move seemed inevitable. Further, it was also clear that no move would come before Giroux’s 1,000th game with the Flyers — which happened amid fanfare on Thursday. It was a celebration and a farewell, which was no secret by that point. Giroux was emotional taking his Flyers jersey off that night, then waited to see how the next couple days would play out.
He wanted Florida, which was already known to be all-in on its quest for a title after trading with Montreal for defenseman Ben Chiarot — a particularly wise move considering top Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad will miss a few weeks with a lower body injury.
Giroux had a no-trade clause waived to make the move happen. Then he just sat back and waited to see if it would get done.
“When we were kind of out of the playoffs that’s when I started thinking, where could I go, what would be a good place, a good fit for me to go and play and win a Cup,” Giroux said. “I was just looking around the teams and there was something about Florida. Every time I was tuning into a game, I just liked the way they played. And so, for me, I just thought it’d be a perfect fit.”
Giroux wouldn’t say if he’d have accepted a trade anywhere else. It seems doubtful that he would have.
“He earned that right to decide, to have a big say in where he would go, I think is the best way to put it,” Flyers president and general manager Chuck Fletcher said over the weekend. “I did have a very limited market in terms of the teams I could speak with. I spoke with several teams, but not all of those teams I would have been able to complete a deal with. There was a lot of interest in Claude, but it was a very limited market, ultimately, that I could give him to.”
No team has an easier schedule down the stretch of the regular season than the Panthers based on average points per opponent. Starting with Thursday’s game at Montreal, Florida plays six of its next seven games with teams that are out of playoff contention — and only four of the Panthers’ final 20 games are against teams that are currently in position to make the postseason.
Barring all-out collapse, Florida will smash its franchise record for points; the Panthers are at 90 now, the club record is 103 in 2015-16. They’re on pace for 336 goals; the club record there is 267. They’ve never finished better than fourth in the leaguewide regular-season standings; they’re second right now, legitimately in the race to win the President’s Trophy.
All that is nice.
The Panthers don’t care about any of it.
From the outset this season has been about winning a Stanley Cup, and the moves for Chiarot and Giroux only underscore how committed Florida — a team that hasn’t won a single playoff series since 1996 — is on making this the year where the Panthers hoist hockey’s chalice.
“That’s the reason I’m here,” Giroux said. “I’m here to win. I’m here to help the team win. That’s the reason why this trade happened. This team has a great chance to go far in the playoffs. Obviously, there’s a lot of great teams in the East, but coming to this team, I think I can help this team. And it’s time to go to work.”