It’s always difficult to compare sports leaders from different eras.
The game of hockey has changed so much over the past five-plus decades since the NHL first expanded, relying on things like statistics really doesn’t work.
Yet here we are, with Claude Giroux just five games away from tying Flyers legend Bob Clarke for the Hall of Famer’s first tenure as Flyers’ captain back in the ‘70s.
Clarke wore the “C’’ first from Jan. 17, 1973 to the end of the 1978-79 season. That reign spanned 542 games. Later, after serving as assistant coach under Pat Quinn, Clarke filled the captain’s role for another 153 games, giving him a total of 695.
Giroux, who has been captain of the team since Jan. 15, 2013, has 537 games under his belt and, barring injury, could pass Clarke’s overall total sometime toward the end of next season.
Judging by the numbers and individual accomplishments, Clarke ranks head and shoulders above Giroux, whose career is still a work in progress.
Clarke led the Flyers to their only two Stanley Cups, was a three-time Hart Trophy/MVP winner and posted incredible career statistics.
In addition, he played a firebrand style of hockey, willing to do whatever it took to win a game, even if it meant bending the rules a bit.
His team-record assist (852) and point (1,210) totals were once thought to be unreachable. Likewise, his 1,144 games played.
But the 31-year-old Giroux is quickly moving up the ladder.
In 822 games, he’s posted 236 goals, 527 assists for 763 points, good for fifth on the team’s alltime list.
Giroux has mentioned more than once that he would like to play until he’s 40. He still has three years left with the Flyers on the eight-year, $66-million contract he signed in July, 2013.
Imagine if he were to sign another contract with the Flyers at the end of the 2020-21 season and tacked on another three or four more seasons.
No doubt all of Clarke’s records would fall.
All that said, it’s tough to say how Giroux would have done as leader of the Broad Street Bullies and how Clarke would have performed as captain of the current cast.
It should be noted the Flyers have not won a playoff series under Giroux’s watch and have missed the playoffs four times.
Clarke’s teams never missed the playoffs and made it the Stanley Cup Final three times.
There’s a quote from Clarke on the wall in the Flyers’ locker room, stating that if you don’t work hard and produce, you can’t expect others to.
That’s the motto Clarke lived by.
By all accounts, Giroux goes about his business in a slightly different way.
He almost never misses a game and rarely takes a night off.
And he’s been a model of consistency. Even after major surgery a couple years back basically cost him a season and resulted in the worst production of his career. He never complained, never made excuses.
A year later, he had his best season ever and became just the 11th player in NHL history to have his first 100-point season after his 30th birthday.
Other players see and hear that and know their captain is the real deal.
The funny thing about all this is, Clarke was general manager of the team back in 2006 when the Flyers went to draft Giroux – and Clarke went to the podium and forgot Giroux’s name.
Safe to say, he knows it now.
One could make a case for many great Flyers captains – including Dave Poulin, Rick Tocchet, Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, Peter Forsberg and Chris Pronger.
But none of those fine gentlemen had Giroux’s lasting power or his consistent competitive brilliance.
There’s still a lot of mileage left in Giroux’s career. Maybe when it’s over, people will be mentioning his name in the same sentence with Clarke’s.