Giroux should be given a longer look for Olympics

Cutline: Claude Giroux has returned to point-per-game status and ranks among the best in the league in faceoff percentage, but remains a long shot to make Team Canada’s Olympic roster. Photo/ Mark Zimmaro

The 2022 Winter Olympics will be here in just a few short months, and debates are already in full gear, dissecting potential rosters for the major competing nations.

Olympic hockey comes around only every four years, making the arguments that much bigger for who should have the honor of representing each nation. The 2022 Olympics arrive with even more weight since the 2018 version didn’t include players from the National Hockey League. They’re back in 2022.

Carter Hart, with his strong start to the season has put himself back in the conversation to be one of Team Canada’s three netminders. Sean Couturier is still a name being tossed around to fill out the Canadian bottom six. But has Canada already turned a blind eye on Claude Giroux?

Giroux is no stranger to the Olympic snub, as he was left off the 2014 team despite having produced a 93-point season two years prior and would eventually finish third in Hart Trophy voting after play resumed after the Olympic break in the 2013-14 season.

Most notably, he was passed over for Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and veterans like Jeff Carter, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Marleau and Martin St. Louis. 

Which makes you wonder, isn’t Giroux now one of those veteran guys whom Team Canada seems to favor in these high-pressure situations? You wouldn’t think so if you watch projections from national media outlets north of the border.

On Nov. 18, TSN analyst Craig Button released his projection, which included Hart and Couturier to make the team. However, there was not a mention of Giroux by Button or fellow TSN colleagues Darren Dreger or Dave Poulin. In fact, Dreger even dropped Couturier from his list, but we’ll save that debate for another day.

When filling out a star-studded roster like Team Canada’s, you don’t need a player like Giroux to score you clutch goals, although he has shown he still has the ability to do that this season. Of Giroux’s seven goals this season, two were to tie the game in the final 90 seconds, three were the all-important first goal of the game, one was an early tying goal, and there was one empty-netter. Six of Giroux’s goals were incredibly important. And he had 16 points in 16 games through the weekend. Not bad.

But that would be all icing on the cake. Giroux’s main strengths are his playmaking ability and his career-long success at the face-off dot. Giroux is 30th all-time in NHL history in face-off percentage (55.55 percent), ranking fifth-best among active players. He trails only Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Jay Beagle and Ryan O’Reilly.

He’s been even better this year at the dot, winning 62.7 percent of his draws and he’s finished each of the last eight years higher than 55 percent. 

Giroux’s flexibility also makes him a tempting choice. He was never going to beat out Connor McDavid, Nathan McKinnon, Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron or even Sean Couturier at the center position. But Giroux’s ability to play the wing opens up possibilities, although there is plenty of talent on the flanks, too, including Jonathan Huberdeau, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Brad Marchand, Mitch Marner and Mark Stone. 

Barring injuries, Giroux would likely have to unseat Ryan O’Reilly, Mark Scheifele or the name that sticks out to me from Button’s list: Zach Hyman. 

Hyman is this year’s Chris Kunitz in that his resume of playing well with elite players has raised his stock greatly. He has made a career out of digging pucks out of the corner for Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But even if Hyman gets left off, there are others waiting in the wings. Mat Barzal, Anthony Cirelli, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will also be in the mix.

There are very smart people who spend incredible amounts of time picking these teams. Hopefully, they give Giroux a second look.