Back in the mid-90s, the Ottawa Senators were rumoured to have a deal on the table to acquire future Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman for the perpetually annoyed Alexei Yashin. It never materialized, of course, but it certainly would have been amazing to have one of Ottawa’s greatest players of all time actually playing for the Ottawa Senators.
Now, roughly 28 years later (and take note of that number), one of Ottawa’s greatest players of all time will actually be playing for the Ottawa Senators.
“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.” – Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald
It’s a humid Sunday morning in Kanata and the Giroux boys are up early. First, it’s a trip to the Brookstreet Hotel for an interview and photo shoot, then they’ll be whisked off to a pro soccer game as guests of Atlético Ottawa. Gavin and Palmer Giroux are a busy, dynamic duo these days, rolling around town in their spiffy new convertible – a flashy, navy blue, double stroller. No, the Giroux boys (ages 3 and 1) aren’t totally clear on what’s actually happening this morning. But they are happy to be along for the ride.
And what a ride it’s been this summer for their father, NHL star Claude Giroux and his entire family, now full-time Ottawa residents.
This is usually the time of year Claude and his wife, Ryanne, are prepping for the move back to Philadelphia for another NHL season with the Flyers. That’s been the tradition for 15 years – hockey season in Philly; summers in Ottawa; rinse and repeat.
But back in March, with the team struggling again, and Giroux about to hit free agency at age 34, the Flyers made the decision to part company with the longest tenured captain in their history. The game plan was to move him at the deadline for future assets that might help the Flyers in what may or may not be a rebuild.
Meanwhile, Giroux was getting ready to play in his 1000th game in the NHL. That was already destined to be a special night for him. Now with all the reports of an imminent trade, it was going to have to double up as G’s farewell celebration too. That’s a lot to take in.
Philly is usually the toughest sports town there is. But when the big night arrived, Flyer fans gave their beloved captain every ounce of brotherly love they could muster.
Flyer legend Bobby Clarke was a part of Giroux-palooza that night. The Hall of Famer is the only other man to play 1000 games for the club. After briefly forgetting Giroux’s name at the draft, Clarke was the man who announced Giroux’s first round selection in 2006. He was there again – 16 years and 1000 games later – to send him off, presenting Giroux with a silver stick.
In a striking contrast to the competitive, ruthless player Clarke used to be, he then stood off to the side, misty-eyed, smiling the smile of a proud parent.
Standing beside him
on the red carpet was Giroux’s actual parents, Ray and Nicole, along with Ryanne, Gavin and Palmer. Earlier, Clarke had ushered Ray into the dressing room to announce the Flyers’ starting lineup, saving his boy’s name for last. They all watched Giroux’s video highlights on the big screen, decorated with tributes from friends and former teammates, and then they all posed for one final team photo.
1000 games, a beautifully played career, and a perfect night. 48 hours later, Giroux was traded at the deadline to the Florida Panthers.
“Any day you trade your captain is a tough day, and with how much Claude has meant to this organization – how he has represented himself for 15 years – it makes it all the more difficult to say goodbye,” said Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. “Claude is one of the best players to ever wear a Flyer uniform.”
Without Giroux, the rest of the Flyers closed the season with a record of 6-16. Ironically, that 22 game stretch ended exactly the way it started – with a loss to Ottawa.
Giroux’s cup of coffee in Florida was piping hot. He finished the season with 23 points in 18 games for the Panthers, the NHL’s best regular season team. But he barely had a chance to unpack in Sunrise. Two months after the trade, his new team was eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who very nearly won their third straight Cup a few weeks later.
And that was that.
Three days later, as the disappointed Panthers packed up for the summer, the Florida media was all over Giroux, peppering him with questions about his future. Could he picture himself back in Florida in the fall?
“Yeah, I could,” Giroux told the media. “Obviously, there’s a lot of things to worry about and a decision has to be made. It’s a tough question because the season just ended a few days ago. We still need time to think – what they want to do and what I want to do. There’s a lot of conversations to be had.”
Among the most important discussions were the ones with Ryanne. After a few weeks, the couple began talking about possibilities for their next chapter.
“Ryanne and I began to talk and started looking at all the options,” Giroux said. “And Ottawa always seemed to come back to our conversation. With both of us being from Ottawa, being able to play here was obviously a plus. And the more we looked at it on the hockey side, it just kept making sense. Everything just clicked. I got excited, then Ryanne got excited, and we just never looked back.”
On July 13th, the opening day of free agency, Giroux signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the hometown Ottawa Senators – almost certainly the club’s most impressive free-agent signing ever. According to CapFriendly.com, Giroux will average $6.5 million per season. He’ll make $7 million in each of the next two seasons and $5.5 million to round things out in 2024-25. Giroux said all the right things at his first news conference as an Ottawa Senator.
“I wouldn’t sign here if I didn’t think we had a chance to win the Cup,” said Giroux. “You have to build on that one good season. And you need to have an identity. I’m not saying we’re going to win the Cup this year, but the plan is to build on it and have baby steps.”
Free agency is the NHL’s annual July fishing trip and the Sens usually miss the boat. But with an emerging young team, the recent change in spending habits, the addition of fellow all-stars like Alex DeBrincat and Cam Talbot, and the chance for Giroux to play at home, Senators’ GM Pierre Dorion finally had all the fancy lures he needed to land a big fish.
As Clarke had done 16 years earlier at the NHL draft, Dorion immediately messed up on Giroux’s name, referring to him as ‘Connor’ before quickly correcting himself. It’s safe to assume Dorion had a lot on his mind that day, including Connor Brown trade talks. Brown was dealt to Washington a few hours later. Whatever name you wish to call him, Dorion has had his eye on Giroux for a long time.
“I know people are going to have a hard time believing this,” Dorion said at the news conference. “But I remember sitting with Eugene (in February of 2018) and I said, ‘I know one guy I want to sign in four years. He’s going to help us to the next level.
“When you get a chance to add a player of Claude’s calibre, you just look at the package. It’s the skill, the leadership, the intangibles – as far as wanting to win. He’s someone that’s had long playoff runs, who’s still almost a point a game player. And he was one of the best players that a lot of Cup contending teams were after. It excites us as an organization. It was time for us to take this step and show we mean business for the next few years.”
The deal made perfect sense, checking all the boxes for both sides, and felt like something Ottawa fans and media had been trying to will into existence for months. Sens captain Brady Tkachuk even got into the act.
“It was at the all-star game last year,” Giroux recalled. “Brady came up to me. I had never really met him before. He goes, ‘I was told to be nice to you this weekend, so you can maybe come with us (to Ottawa) next year.’ It was just as a joke. And I didn’t even think anything of it. Since then, I never thought it would actually happen. But here I am.”
There’s no doubt it will take some time to see how Giroux can support Ottawa’s current (and much younger) leadership group without stepping on toes. Right now, he’s just looking forward to meeting everyone. Before the trade, he wasn’t that tight with anyone on the Senators roster.
“No, not really,” said Giroux. “I know some of the guys from skating in the summer, but it’s not like we go to dinner or play golf together. I’m not a guy that likes to be buddies with players from other teams. But I’m excited to meet everyone. I heard from other guys it’s a great locker room. In Florida, it was my first time to kind of walk into a locker room (in the middle of a season), not knowing a lot of people and trying to fit in. So to start a season with a new team, it’s exciting.
For the first time in a decade, Giroux will start a new campaign this fall without a “C” on his left shoulder. That’s a role in Ottawa that, of course, belongs to Brady Tkachuk, who became Ottawa’s 10th captain last November.
“Obviously, Brady’s the captain,” said Giroux. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about him as captain. Just from playing against him, he just looks like a guy that you want to follow. So, I’m just gonna go out there and be myself. To be a leader, you don’t really have to say much or push guys, you just have to be yourself.”
While Giroux is planning to ease his way into things, his new teammates should be aware that he does have a couple of pet peeves (we specifically asked about them) about locker room etiquette.
“I’m a pretty easy-going guy in the locker room,” said Giroux. “If anything, I’m probably the one that kind of pisses off the other guys a little bit. But there’s definitely one thing. When guys leave their wet towels on the ground and don’t put them in the bin. Or they don’t place their sandals back in their stall and let the trainer do it. That’s a bad peeve for me.”
Even as Giroux just tries to be himself, Ottawa hockey fans have definitely treated him a little differently this summer compared to previous ones. He is now an Ottawa Senator, after all.
“Yeah, I definitely get recognized a little bit more when I go skate or go to Farm Boy. People are excited. I mean, we made some big moves and there’s that kind of buzz right now around the city. People are excited about this team, as they should be. That’s one of the reasons I came here… to start winning some hockey games.”
Another major reason is family.
For Claude’s wife, Ryanne, getting her head completely around the transition is taking a little time, even though she hails from Kanata.
“I think it’s still sinking in,” said Ryanne. “Everybody always asks how we’re feeling and it still doesn’t feel real because we would still be here (at this time of year). But the more we think about it, we get more excited every day. And then we think about being so close to the arena. Gavin is obsessed with going to the game. We drive past the arena every day and he talks about it. So I think we’re just embracing it.”
The young couple are definitely embracing parenthood.
As I greet them at the front door of the Brookstreet Hotel for this interview, their boys are cuddled up in their double stroller, and for a moment, it’s easy to forget about the celebrity and wealth that comes with being an NHL star. Claude and Ryanne stride through the parking lot looking like any other proud new parents – happy and full of love for their young children, but also that hint of distraction. Maybe it’s a lack of sleep, something that just happened, something that might happen, something they may have forgotten or left behind, or all of the above. Standard stuff for new parents. Giroux says becoming a father has been awesome.
“Obviously when you have your first, you’re not too sure what to expect,” said Claude. “You hear other parents talk about how great it is, how it’s the best thing in the world. And now going through it, having two boys, it’s very busy. But every day there’s something new. They make you laugh and it’s been awesome.”
Giroux is certainly having a laugh in the photo on his Twitter profile. It could easily feature an image from one of his hundreds of amazing hockey moments. Instead, it’s an endearing image of Giroux grinning away with an electric toothbrush in his mouth as he teaches Gavin dental hygiene.
“I enjoy the teaching part of it,” said Giroux. “And he wants to learn too. So, anything that daddy does, Gavin wants to do. Anytime I go do something, he always wants to be a part of it. I always try to make it as fun as possible for him. Every day it’s something new with him and the memories are great.”
As we set up for the interview and photo shoot in a quiet area of the Brookstreet, Ryanne begins happily playing with the boys around a hotel chair that resembles a giant, beige hockey puck. At a glance, Palmer is the spitting image of his older brother, both curious about everything, ready for fun, and maybe a little spark of mischief lurking behind perfect blue eyes.
Immersing the boys in life experience and family adventure is obviously a priority for the young couple. For example, Gavin and Palmer were on hand for Dad’s 1000th game ceremony in Philly. Gavin sat right next to Claude at his welcoming press conference in Ottawa – completely decked out in Sens’ gear. And of course, the whole gang is here for this interview and photo shoot.
“They’re obviously a big part of our lives,” said Giroux. “Any time we do something, we want them to be a part of it. Not only for our memories, but for theirs too. We did the press conference with the Sens and Gavin being able to be there and spend the whole day with me, that was just awesome. And he really enjoyed it. He was very patient. There were a lot of things that had to be done that maybe he didn’t want be a part of, but he was very patient and we had a great day.”
Giroux vividly remembers the day he and Ryanne found out Gavin was on the way. That, too, was a great day. But the couple’s celebration was a quick one.
“Yeah, that day was actually pretty funny,” said Giroux. “It was around Christmas time and we were going our west for maybe a week and a half for a road trip. And literally three minutes before I had to leave, Ryanne and I looked at the pregnancy test and saw that it was positive. And I had to leave! So, it was a very quick celebration. We had a few nervous laughs. We just couldn’t believe that it was actually going to happen. We were very excited.
“I’m lucky that Ryanne is a star. She has a bond with the two boys that you just watch and enjoy. Gavin wakes up every morning and wants to see his momma right away. That’s how it is 24/7. Ryanne is obviously a champ and it’s great.”
When addressing how Claude is handling parenthood, Ryanne is equally complimentary.
“I couldn’t ask for much better,” said Ryanne. “Really. He’s always there when he can be. He’s definitely not golfing as much anymore. If he has free time, that’s what he would choose to do, though, for sure. But no, it’s been really fun. And them being boys, they always want to be doing what he’s doing. So it’s fun to watch them have these new experiences all the time.”
No one is breathlessly tracking prospects for the 2037 NHL Draft quite yet, but Gavin has definitely inherited Claude’s love of sports.
“Yeah, he likes pretty much every sport,” Claude said. “He loves baseball and he’s slowly starting golf. And definitely a lot of hockey. During the season, he’s a little bit more into hockey because he sees the highlights and sees me at the warm ups and during the games. So, hockey is number one for him right now, but whatever he wants to do, we’re gonna be there. There’s a lot of soccer too. He just likes to move, so that’s good with me.”
To prove Claude’s point, Gavin randomly makes a mad, giggly dash down the hotel hallway, hoping someone will chase him or engage him in a game of tag. Now take all that energy and multiply it by five. Claude’s sister, Isabelle, who got engaged during the annual family skate at the 2012 NHL Winter Classic, has three young sons on her branch of the family tree. So, the Giroux family gatherings are going to be good and lively for the next decade or so.
Claude looks back fondly on his own childhood. He spent his first 14 years in Hearst, about an hour and a half northeast of Thunder Bay. It’s a mostly french-speaking community with 5000 people, and bills itself as the Moose Capital of Canada. He and Isabelle started playing hockey at the same time and each had stalls in the basement because every day of the week one of them was going to the rink to play.
“Hearst had a lot of snow and one of my best friends had an outdoor rink,” said Giroux. “So, I was over at his house a lot, playing a lot of hockey. I played for HLK, the Hearst Lumber Kings. Hearst is a very small town, so whoever showed up to the tryout made the team, basically. But there were a lot of great players that played there and so many fun memories – playing in big tournaments and spending the weekend in a hotel. I think the parents might have enjoyed it even more than us, but those are memories that’ll never go away.”
It wasn’t easy for a small town 14-year-old to leave everything behind for the move to a big, new city almost 1000 kilometres away. Hearst was all Giroux knew and all his friends were there. So, his first year at Béatrice-Desloges high school in Orleans wasn’t easy. But eventually, he met a lot of good people and friends through hockey. He played for the Cumberland Barons major bantam and minor midget, and then played for Cumberland Grads of the CCHL.
“I didn’t get drafted in the OHL so I played for the Grads at age 16 (scoring 40 points in 48 games). And after that year, I still didn’t get drafted in the OHL. Gatineau invited me to camp and I was prepared. I worked out pretty hard just to make sure I was ready, knowing there’s a chance I may not make it. I understood that, but I wanted to give myself the best shot. I went to camp and the coach (Benoit Groulx) really liked the way I was playing. He had a lot of trust in me and pushed me a lot. And that first year went great.”
Giroux vividly remembers the first time he felt like he might have what it takes to make the NHL. At age 17, after he started the year with 10 points in 10 games, he casually picked up a 2006 NHL Draft scouting report and saw his name listed among the draft-worthy prospects.
“I was ranked, like, sixth round to get drafted. And then that’s when I opened up my eyes. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I actually have a chance to get drafted here. And I remember being more motivated than ever, and just kept working hard and having fun. That whole year happened so quick. I went from being invited to Gatineau’s camp, to making the team and a few months later getting drafted in the first round in the NHL. So I didn’t really have time to sit down and realize what was happening until it was all done. It was a crazy year.”
As a childhood Habs fan, Giroux was secretly hoping Montreal might take him at the 2006 NHL Draft. The Habs had their chance at 20th overall, two picks before the Flyers selected Giroux. At the time, Montreal figured the better option was defenceman David Fischer, who never played a single game in the NHL.
“Yeah, growing up where I’m from, pretty much everybody loves the Montreal Canadiens. I was a die-hard Habs fan. And at the draft, they were very interested in me with the 20th pick, and so were the Rangers at 21st. So, in my head, I was sitting there with my parents, and I told myself if I don’t get drafted 20th or 21st, I probably won’t get drafted in the first round. I’ll probably have to wait till tomorrow. So, when Montreal didn’t draft me and then the Rangers didn’t draft me, I was very disappointed. I didn’t want to go the second round. You want to be drafted first round, right? But then Philly drafted me. I didn’t even know they were that interested in me. But that was a pretty crazy day.”
In the spring of 2010, only five years after being completely overlooked in a second straight OHL Draft, Giroux emerged as a star in the NHL at age 21. It was his first full NHL season, and Giroux found himself in a Stanley Cup Final, posting 21 points in 23 playoff games that year. He fit in seamlessly with older players like Gatineau’s Daniel Briere and Hall of Famer Chris Pronger. They were in their early 30s then and able to provide veteran leadership support to young players like Giroux and Flyer captain Mike Richards. Giroux is 34 now and will likely have an identical role, helping Tkachuk in Ottawa.
“I get asked about that playoff run a lot, and how we got into the playoffs with a shoot-out win in the last game of the season. And then being down 3-0 to Boston in round one and coming back to win that series (only four NHL teams in history have done that). And then the final against the Blackhawks was pretty crazy (Chicago won the series 4 games to 2). It obviously leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you’re that close. At that point, I’m 21 years old and telling myself, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. You’re gonna have a lot of more chances to do it.’ And then you don’t. You don’t get a sniff; not even close. It’s a very tough league to win in and I wish now I didn’t take it for granted.”
Hockey fans might assume Giroux would automatically be able to hand down an experience like that to Ottawa’s younger players – telling them about the process, how hard it is, and what they need to do to get there someday. But it’s not that simple.
“It’s hard because somebody told me all that when I was 21 and I was like, [sarcastic tone] ‘Sure. Okay.’ But now I think, ‘Oh, he was right.’ But anytime I have a chance to talk to younger guys about my experience, I will. Even if they don’t believe me or don’t want to listen to me, that’s fine. But I remember telling Danny Briere after we lost the Blackhawks, I should have listened to him a little bit more.”
A Stanley Cup is Giroux’s primary goal, but the next three years in Ottawa will also go a long way in rounding out what’s probably a Hall of Fame resume. When I asked about it, Giroux admitted he thinks about it sometimes.
Well, yeah, obviously you sometimes think about that kind of stuff. But it’s not the main goal. That kind of stuff takes care of itself, if it’s meant to be. It’s not like I’m playing hockey to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. If you start thinking or stressing about that kind of stuff, you can’t really be yourself. But it would be a great honour , that’s for sure.
If you could only choose one Claude Giroux highlight to be played at your retirement party, what would it be?
There’s this one goal I scored against Columbus. We were down by two in the third and we came back. I scored with a minute or two left and it was a pretty cool goal (Giroux had his back to the goal and roofed home a backhand while getting clobbered from behind). We won the game on that goal, but I’d also had such a tough start that year (2013-14). I didn’t have a goal in like 19 games. That was the toughest stretch of my career, probably. So that goal meant a lot to me.
What has your Ottawa trainer, Tony Greco, meant to your career?
I mean, Tony took me in when I was 17 and we progressed a lot together. He pushes me like no one else can. He’s always trying to find ways for me to be better and get better. And he just cares. So, we have a lot of great times together. I don’t think I could ask for a better trainer than Tony.
What will you miss about Philadelphia?
Well, definitely my teammates. And I never thought I’d say this, but the fans too. It took me a while to understand them, but they’re absolutely nuts – a good nuts. They’re people you want on your side. I had a lot of great experiences with them, a lot of great memories and I can even relate to them a little bit.
How would you describe your game at age 34 compared to where you were a decade ago?
I think I’m maybe not as flashy as I was, but I think I’m definitely smarter. You’re trying to win hockey games, first and foremost. It’s more of a team thing. I think when you get older and more mature, you realize what’s really important.
And I’d take the 34-year-old before the 25-year-old, any day.
By Steve Warne
Photography by Sean Sisk