Flyers Correct to Treat Claude Giroux with Kid Gloves

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

Photo Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In an early afternoon press conference, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby admitted to a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms, and will be out indefinitely. Crosby was only eight games into his return from a series of concussions suffered in January of 2011 before this most recent setback.

Three hundred miles to the east, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced that his own star, Claude Giroux, would not accompany his teammates to Washington after taking a knee to the head during Saturday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Holmgren stressed that Giroux was feeling better, but that he would need to be re-evaluated by a team doctor on Tuesday before any further updates on his status.

Think the two reports aren’t related? Think again.

Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s biggest star and undoubtedly its most marketed player, has sadly watched his playing career turn into a cautionary tale of the devastating effect of concussions on athletes. After a blindside hit from David Steckel during last year’s Winter Classic, Crosby did not miss a game, dressing for a matchup against the Lightning only four days later. The result? A second jarring hit, this time from defenseman Victor Hedman, and the last time that Crosby would see NHL action for over ten months.

But as Crosby has gone from future Hall-of-Fame lock to perpetual injury risk, Claude Giroux has flourished. He concluded the 2010-11 season as the Philadelphia Flyers’ leading scorer, led the team in playoff scoring, and now has found himself atop the NHL leaderboard in points. Giroux is quickly becoming a superstar.

Now, he faces the same threat that brought down Sidney Crosby: the dreaded concussion.

The reports out of Camp Giroux have been positive thus far. The Hockey Guys editor-in-chief Dustin Leed reported on Sunday night that sources close to the player confirmed that he is healthy, and even considered returning for the third period of Saturday’s game. Paul Holmgren called his removal from the game “precautionary,” and has consistently denied that Giroux has suffered from headaches in the aftermath of the incident.

Despite the encouraging reports, the Flyers have chosen to sit Giroux for at least Tuesday night’s game against Washington, and likely Thursday’s matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

The front office’s caution isn’t merely justified. It’s common sense.

Sidney Crosby felt healthy enough to play four days after suffering a concussion. Now, NHL observers worry he will never reach his pre-injury heights again, at least on a consistent basis. After sixteen days, Chris Pronger felt he was ready to return after taking a stick to his eye. After five games, he was sidelined with a “virus,” now regarded as the start of concussion symptoms. He’s out indefinitely, with no timetable for his eventual return.

Concussion symptoms are tricky. Sometimes it takes days for headaches and dizziness to emerge. Sometimes the symptoms are mistaken for an illness or just general exhaustion. While the NHL should be applauded for instituting a mandatory baseline concussion test immediately following any head injury, the test is far from conclusive, simply due to the nature of concussions.

Therefore, teams need to be patient with all their players – but especially with a star like Claude Giroux.

If Giroux misses one week as the Flyers attempt to properly evaluate his injury, that’s fine. If it takes two weeks to discern whether his symptoms are mere whiplash and a stiff neck and not something far worse, that’s understandable. If it takes three weeks for Giroux’s head to feel completely clear, the Flyers are still correct in their patience.

Better three weeks than three months. Or ten months, as in Crosby’s case.

Remember this: the Philadelphia Flyers are not the only party heavily invested in Claude Giroux. With Sidney Crosby’s future in doubt, a marketing void now exists in the NHL. A void that a talented, exciting, well-spoken player who just so happens to play in a big market might be able to fill. You better believe that Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL brass are praying that Giroux both plays and dominates on the national stage of the upcoming Winter Classic.

Claude Giroux has the ability to become the face of the NHL in the coming seasons. Yes, he is that good.

But he could also follow his predecessor down another path. A path of constant injury updates, speculation, and uncertainty.

The Flyers must do all that they can to ensure that the former, and not the latter, becomes Claude Giroux’s legacy.

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