Monday, October 4, 2010

Is There Such a Thing as Career AHLers? The Case of Alexandre Giroux

photo by AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward

It was tough for Bears fans to say goodbye to AHL All-Star winger Alexandre Giroux, but I know at least I wished him the best in his quest to finally break into an NHL lineup - in Edmonton.  This summer, Giroux accepted a one-year, one-way deal with the Oilers, and he went into camp in the hopes of surviving cuts.

But today, it was announced that he didn't survive.  He's been put on waivers, and if he clears, will be starting the season with new AHL affiliate the Oklahoma City Barons.  It was clearly a disappointing end of camp for the 29-year-old Giroux, who has gone through nine NHL training camps in his career without being offered a roster spot by close of camp. 
"In four [preseason] games, I had one goal.  I'm a goal-scorer, I've got to score goals.  I'll work on it and we'll see."
Not like he hasn't been working on it for the last nine years in the AHL.  Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 7th round of the 1999 NHL Entry draft, Giroux began his AHL career with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2000-01.  His rookie year, he racked up 27 points in 70 games.  His AHL numbers steadily improved through free-agent signings to several other clubs, but he always ended up in the A.

He finally landed in Hershey in 2006, and instantly made an impression.  In the next four seasons with Hershey he broke several AHL records (including Brett Hull's record for most consecutive games scoring a goal), and in the 2008-09 season, was MVP of the league.

But in 30 total games with the Capitals, he tallied four goals.  So why can't his success in the AHL translate to the NHL?

One thing that Oilers coaches pointed out was that Giroux's skating was not very strong.  He can put pucks in the net, but it can be difficult to score when there are NHL defensemen in your way who are stronger and faster than you.

The other issue with Giroux is that in his case, there is someone better available.  After the most recent cuts, the Oilers are still two bodies over the roster limit.  With powerhouse rookies like Jordan Eberle, Magnus Pääjärvi, and Taylor Hall, it may have just been a poor time to come into Edmonton.  Those are three forward roster spots that weren't filled last season, and while Giroux could have fit into the lineup at that time, the three rookies are ready for their NHL debuts.  A top line of Shawn Horcoff, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle combined for ten points in four preseason games.

Giroux encountered a similar problem in Washington.  In an interview after his signing with the Oilers, Giroux talked about his and Keith Aucoin's similar problem (Aucoin was cut from Capitals camp last week):
"Me and Keith Aucoin had a lot of points (in Hershey) and a lot of good stuff on the ice the last two years, but with Ovechkin and Semin and Brooks Laich there, it was hard for us.  I don't want to give up. I want to get better."
Though "getting better" now looks to mean starting a new legacy for the Oklahoma City Barons, Giroux can at least take solace in the fact that this is not his last chance.  The Edmonton Journal predicts that should an injury occur in Edmonton, Giroux will likely be at the top of the list for a call-up.  If he can finally prove that his talent can also work in the NHL, he may be able to make that temporary call-up permanent.

In the meantime, best of luck to Alexandre Giroux.  In my fan dealings with him, he's been nothing but kind and professional.  Hershey fans are rooting for him.

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