It's being known as the best fighter in the world, pound for pound.
It's not a label tossed around haphazardly; it's a king-making honor bestowed upon the sport's elite talents.
To that end, Philadelphia Flyers Coach Peter Laviolette made Claude Giroux the Manny Pacquiao of the National Hockey League on Sunday, after his 24-year-old star led the Flyers to a Game 6 elimination of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, 'I don't know who you're planning on starting tonight, but I want that first shift', that says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there," said Laviolette.
It was a casual, indirect elevation of a star player's status to a heretofore unassigned stratum; and it came after a series victory about the player many feel is, pound for pound, the best hockey player in the world.
Or at least was.
So is Claude Giroux The Best In The World At What He Does (tm, Chris Jericho)?
After his 14-point effort against the Penguins, shutting down Sidney Crosby in the process, Giroux has rightfully been chatted up as an MVP and an NHL star in the aftermath.
"He's probably the biggest competitor I've ever played with," teammate Scott Hartnell said. "He wants to win so bad. I could tell right when I got to the rink this morning that he was fired up and ready to go. You hit like that first shift, you score like that first shift -- that's our best guy in here."
In a very real way, these drastically reconfigured Flyers became a team by dismissing the favored Penguins. But they also became Giroux's team. Giroux, 24, is a rare combination of skill, grit, creativity, hockey intelligence and fearlessness. He already had outplayed all-universe stars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin throughout this series. Giroux scored six goals, including a Game 2 hat trick, and assisted on eight others.
Crosby was widely considered the best player in the world before he suffered a concussion midway through last season. Malkin is the favorite to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player this season. He had 109 points, a dozen more than the next-best man, the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos.
But Giroux ranked third in scoring, and if you're measuring value, consider this: Flyers GM Paul Holmgren traded captain Mike Richards and sniper Jeff Carter last summer. He did it largely because he wanted to change the culture of the dressing room. He could do it largely because he had Giroux, who had improved steadily each season, performed well in the playoffs and seemed ready to take the next step.
It's safe to say he is a star in the NHL even if the mainstream media refuse to acknowledge it. His playoff performance against the Penguins should back it up with his 5 goals and 6 assists. The Flyers do not advance without his play.
It is hard to score goals in the postseason. The action is faster, and playoff teams often sharpen up on defense. Plus, there is psychological mindset at work when it comes to scorers, especially when they struggle in the postseason to the point it becomes a lost cause. If it was easy to score postseason goals, Marian Gaborik, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise and Brandon Dubinsky would not be having hard time doing so.
Giroux is different. He knows what he is doing when he is out on the ice. He finds a way to make it happen by creating many scoring chances for himself. He will find a way to crash into the net just to get the puck through the goaltender. He has a good vision for the puck, which helps his linemates be in a position to score. He is also good on defense, and he demonstrated that by shutting down Crosby in this entire series.
Best Player In The World status means you're a complete player: Offensively dominant, above average defensively and with the kind of intangibles (leadership, success, timely play) that eventually get statues constructed in your honor.
(We're pretty sure they're constructed one in commemoration of that Giroux hit on Crosby over in Hearst, Ont., as we speak, right next to the one featuring Pierre LeBrun breaking a trade on Canadian television.)
Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks is a complete player. Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings is a complete player. Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning is getting there defensively.
Crosby earned B.P.I.T.W. status when the defensive side of his game caught up with the offensive side. This season, Giroux's made the same dramatic leap: He's improved on faceoffs, is great one takeaways; and as Crosby can attest, Giroux can flat out shut you down.
But is he the best player in the world?
For my money, the most complete player in the world is Jonathan Toews, but he doesn't have the offensive totals that Crosby, Giroux and Datysuk have posted. Datsyuk's a hockey god and the first pick in the All-Star Draft, but at 33 is starting to slip as a dominant player.
The B.P.I.T.W. fight comes down to Crosby vs. Giroux, with Crosby having the larger sample size (and considerably more success) and Giroux having a dominating, emphatic, career-defining-to-this-point head to head win against Crosby. We need to see another season or two of Giroux's growth (and assess Crosby's decline, if there is one) before he takes the crown from the Kid Who Would Be King.
So who, in your opinion, is the best player in the world right now?
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- Claude Giroux
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- Sidney Crosby