Top Shelf: Giroux's 'freak' injury gives Philly a scare

When news of Claude Giroux's golfing injury surfaced Thursday it was hard not to think of former Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum.

Bynum, of course, never made it on the NBA court during an ill-fated year in Philadelphia and will always be remembered for aggravating his knee injury while bowling.

Although both injuries were somehow sustained while playing non-contact sports that's where the similarities between Bynum and Giroux end. After all, the Flyers' centerman is a huge part of his franchise's present and future. Bynum, on the other hand, has mercifully moved on to Cleveland, although his brief, but disastrous stop in the City of Brotherly Love is destined to be an unending source of grief for Philly fans.

Giroux was injured Thursday while playing a round of golf in his native province of Ottawa. According to a statement released by the Flyers, Giroux's club "shattered and splintered into his index finger" and surgery was needed to repair some tendon damage.

The freak injury expects to keep Giroux sidelined for the next 5-to-6 weeks, meaning he should be ready to return to action just before the start of the 2013-14 NHL season. Still, with the Flyers missing the playoffs last year during Giroux's first season as the team's captain, this is hardly the kind of omen the 25-year-old centerman wanted heading into the new campaign.

While Giroux admitted to the Philadelphia Daily News that the injury "was more frustrating than you even know" he also added "something like this isn't going to hold me back."

Unlike Bynum, Giroux is in Philly to stay, signing an eight-year, $66.2 million extension with the Flyers back in July. The club's huge investment in him means Giroux will have even more pressure to perform heading into this season and impressing Philadelphia fans is no easy task.

After all, Giroux was a point-per-game player during the recent lockout- shortened campaign, but critics will point out how only 13 of his 48 points came via goals.

Scoring more is one of Giroux's tasks for the upcoming season, but nothing is a bigger priority than leading Philadelphia back to the playoffs. Failing to get his team into the playoffs a year after Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette labeled Giroux "the best player in the world" only makes qualifying for the postseason in 2013-14 an even more pressing matter.

The last time Philly missed the playoffs in consecutive years was during a five-year drought from 1990-1994 and Giroux doesn't want to be associated with those Flyers teams, especially not at the beginning of what he expects to be a long-tenured run as captain.

However, even with a healthy and effective Giroux at their disposal, there's a very distinct possibility the Flyers will miss the playoffs once again. An honest look at the club's projected roster reveals question marks in all areas of the ice, especially at the blue line and in net, and those deficiencies could be difficult to overcome even if Giroux has a banner season in 2013-14.

Although hockey is clearly a team sport, fans in some NHL cities tend to sink all their hopes and dreams into a single player. Whether it's fair or not, just like Alexander Ovechkin is in Washington, Giroux is directly tied to both the successes and failures of his franchise.

On the surface Philadelphia fans can tell themselves that Giroux will be fine and so will the Flyers, but deep down seeing the team's best player suffer such an unlucky injury can't help but stir up uneasy feelings.

Native Philadelphians like myself are well versed in the psychology of this city and how it relates to sports. Although it is often clouded in a storm of bravado and bluster, at the core of every Philadelphia sports fan is an overwhelming sense of dread. That sinking feeling came to the surface when Bynum tweaked his knee trying to pick up a spare and it resurfaced when Giroux suffered his recent mishap on the links.

Giroux said the injury to his finger wasn't a "big deal" and he is probably right. Still, that won't stop Philadelphia fans from worrying about it.