IT BEGAN with a prank, as his Flyers teammates sent newly named captain Claude Giroux onto the ice alone during an open-to-the-public practice at Wells Fargo Center to thank fans for waiting through the lockout.
It ended with him answering awkward questions in front of a locker room filled with equipment bags packed far earlier than anyone expected.
But if coach Peter Laviolette and general manager Paul Holmgren are grading the first season of his captaincy, Giroux passed with flying colors.
As Eagles coach Chip Kelly said about quarterbacks over the weekend, hockey captains are like tea bags. You don't know what you have until you put them in hot water. There were more than a few "hot-water'' situations for Giroux, 25, to tackle in his first season as captain.
"I think he did a terrific job as the captain of the team," Laviolette said. "It was a tough year. He did a really good job. He has terrific leadership qualities. He's driven. He's an excellent teammate.
"I think sometimes, when you're not as successful as you'd like to be, you really - whether you want to or not - you get to use and try that leadership. It becomes more in the forefront [than] when sometimes things are cruising along in the right direction and you just go day to day winning hockey games.
"You get to see what kind of a leader he is and what kind of person he is.''
Giroux did not win the Flyers' team MVP award, which went to leading goal scorer Jake Voracek, but his drop-off in points was only marginal. Giroux finished the year as a point-per-game player (48) - good for 82 during a full season, off from a career-high 93 last year.
"There's more responsibility, but I really like it," Giroux said Saturday. "When it comes to responsibility, I take it to heart. When the team goes not the right way, you start questioning what you can do. Obviously, it was something new. It was good to have that 'C' and also have a lot of help. It's frustrating that we're not in the playoffs, but you know what? We just need to go forward from here."
Paul Holmgren touched on a few different topics during Sunday's post-mortem media availability. Here's a small sampling of answers:
* On whether the Flyers would be willing to trade up in June's draft from the 11th overall pick and whether that selection will be able to compete for an NHL roster spot right away:
"I think we'll get a good player with the first pick. Whether he can make an impact right away or not, I don't know. You look at the players who have jumped in right away over the last few years - high picks, mid-first-round picks, late first-round picks. Nothing surprises me anymore."
* On the state of the Flyers' farm system in Adirondack, which has not made the playoffs in four straight springs since moving to Glens Falls, N.Y., and the impact of coach Terry Murray. The Phantoms are 131-153-12-16 since the move:
"I'm not happy that that team is not in the playoffs, either, but they had a lot of young kids playing down there, too. Especially at the end. It was a messed-up year down there, too. When the lockout ended, [players] came up. I think Terry did a good job. He prepares those guys to be good pros. Every kid that we called up at the end jumped up and did well."
* On whether team speed was an issue for the Flyers this season:
"I think there were times this year where I'd agree with that. I think there were other times, especially in the last little stretch here, where we looked faster than earlier in the year."
* On the prospects of re-signing restricted free-agent defensemen Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen:
"Oliver and Erik, certainly they're restricted and that's an easy process. We'll go through that and get them signed. Both of them have made great strides in the organization."
* On 2012 first-round pick Scott Laughton, 18, competing for a full-time spot in September:
"That wouldn't surprise me, either. He dominated at his level at times. And that's encouraging."
* On prospect Nick Cousins, who joined the Phantoms after posting a 103-point season in the OHL this year, and whether he is ready for the NHL:
"That would be a stretch. He's very gifted offensively. He's one of the guys that the puck always seems to somehow come back to and he makes something good happen. But he needs to learn the defensive nature of the game, how to play at the other end better."
Bryz to Worlds
According to Sport-Express in Russia, Ilya Bryzgalov will be Russia's starting goaltender when the World Championships open on Friday in Finland and Sweden.
Surprisingly, expected Vezina Trophy finalist Sergei Bobrovsky will be Bryzgalov's backup. Bobrovsky finished second in the league with a .932 save percentage; Bryzgalov finished 48th among 57 goalies with at least 10 games with a .900 save percentage.
The Sport-Express report indicated Bryzgalov would not attend the tournament unless he was guaranteed the starting job.
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