What’s next for Claude Giroux and the Panthers? ‘I came to Florida to win a Cup’

Claude Giroux isn’t quite sure what’s next for him. But he’s got an early idea of ​​what he hopes it looks like: another crack at it with the Florida Panthersif at all possible.

“It definitely would interest me,” Giroux, 34, told The Athletic Tuesday afternoon from South Florida. “Since the first day I got here, from my teammates to the organization, it was a great experience. Obviously, it helps when you’re winning a lot of hockey games.

“The full experience for me and my family, the organization did an unbelievable job.”

Well and it just so happens the desire to keep it going is reciprocal. Sources say Panthers GM Bill Zito has told Giroux he hopes to find a way, if possible, to bring him back. But getting that done won’t be easy.

The Panthers have more than a third of their entire roster on expiring contracts, plus Keith Yandle’s buyout cap charge next year is $5.4 million, so there’s lots to do and a lot of moving parts. Panthers management is going to have to get creative to find a way to bring Giroux back.


Giroux was dealt to the Panthers at the trade deadline. (Sam Navarro / USA Today)

It probably means making a trade or two and we know, since Zito took over as GM, that he’s unfraid to wheel and deal.

So stay tuned on whether the Panthers can make Giroux a contract offer before the opening of the UFA market indeed July 13, but that seems to be the plan if at all possible.

For Giroux, there’s the allure of some unfinished business if he gets a chance to continue on with the Panthers.

“Yeah. I came to Florida to win a Cup,” said the native of Hearst, Ont. “Obviously we weren’t able to do that. But at the same time, I think we learned a lot from the Washington series and also the Tampa series. We’ll see how the next month goes, but excited to see what’s going to happen here.”

There’s also the idea that being able to play a normal season with the Panthers, and not just come on late via the trade deadline, would be nice to experience. It’s not easy coming on as a trade-deadline pickup and trying to fit in on a first-place team without rocking the boat.

“You go on a team that’s been winning a lot, they have their thing going and you’re trying to get in there and make yourself as comfortable as possible and try to help out as much as you can, whatever that job is,” said Giroux, who had 23 points (3-20) in 18 regular-season games with the Panthers. “Obviously, it’s the first time I had to go through it. I definitely have more respect for the guys who have done it now. It’s definitely not easy.”

Giroux also added eight points (3-5) in 10 playoff games. He remains an offensive player and a great faceoff guy, and the former captain comes with obvious leadership skills. He’s not the 102-point player of 2017-18, of course, but his 65 points in 75 games this past season between the Flyers and Panthers proves he can bring it in a top-six role.

My guess is a three-year deal that would probably be ideal for Giroux and his young family — his two boys aged 34 months and 10 months, and his wife Ryanne. To put some roots down again.

I took a wild guess at the key criteria for Giroux ahead of free agency and suggested to him that 1) the right fit for his family, and 2) the chance to win would weigh the most in his ultimate decision.

“I think you’re right on the button there,” Giroux responded. “But as crazy as it might sound, I haven’t really talked about it or thought about it yet. I think it’s very important to have a few weeks to turn off the brain before you go back to thinking business, before you go back to training. A little time off is very important so you don’t go crazy.

“Me and my family, we’ll obviously talk about it, do a little bit of homework and see how things are going. But I’ve definitely enjoyed my time in Florida.”

Giroux and family are headed back to their offseason home in the Ottawa area this weekend. There’s been some chatter among Senators fans about the idea of ​​Giroux landing there as a UFA to help the rebuilding Sens along. I actually think it isn’t a crazy thought but perhaps makes more sense in a few years instead of now. Giroux wants to win a Cup so bad right now.

Giroux told his agent Pat Brisson he would take a few weeks off before circling back to the offseason UFA game plan. But again, there’s no question the first objective is to see if they can work out something with Florida, which Brisson also confirmed on Tuesday was the first objective for them.

If not, the UFA market beckons for the first time in Giroux’s career. Which would be nerve-wracking but also exciting all at once, Giroux said. Just like getting traded for the first time in his all-star NHL career was both beyond stressful yet exciting.

“My first week in Florida, I felt just like I did my first week in the NHL. I was excited,” Giroux said. “I just felt like I was 20 again.”

It’s no wonder Giroux wants to de-compress right now — it’s been a season full of events. Captains don’t get traded every day. It was his first-ever trade, saying goodbye to the only NHL franchise he had known, playing in game No. 1,000 just before the trade happened, then the blur of trying to fit in with the first-place Panthers. It was a busy year.

“Yeah, it was very emotional,” Giroux said. “I mean, I’m getting traded from Philly, and been there for a long time, trying to fit in with the Panthers. Emotionally I feel like I didn’t really have time to kind of realize what was happening, because everything was happening so quick.”

He’s finally been able to sit back and take stock in it all.

Now comes the next chapter.

Giroux has always played with a chip on his shoulder, wanting to prove people wrong since his youth hockey days when he went undrafted in the Ontario Hockey League and made the Hull Olympiques (now Gatineau) of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a walk- on. Then became a first-round NHL pick of the Flyers.

No doubt some people will wonder what’s left in the tank for the 34-year-old forward. Don’t bet against him is all I would say.

“I always feel like I have something to prove,” Giroux said. “That’s kind of a good thing when you have that motivation to push yourself.

“I don’t know how many years I got left, but I’m sure going to give it all I got here.”

(Top photo: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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