Bright Spots – Mark Giordano

DALLAS - NOVEMBER 04:  Defenseman Mark Giordano #5 of the Calgary Flames at American Airlines Center on November 4, 2009 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)


There’s no getting around the fact that last season was a big disappointment for the Calgary Flames. Many of the big money players and notable acquisitions had off-years. The team missed the post-season for the first time under Sutter as GM. The club boasted one of the very worst offences in the entire NHL.

Of course, there were a few enduring bright spots last year. In this post, the first of a series, we’ll look at perhaps the single best silver lining – the play of Mark Giordano.

For a club that has struggled to internally develop high level players, Mark Giordano is one of the most compelling stories in recent memory. Undrafted out of junior despite leading the Owen Sound Attack in scoring from the back-end for both seasons in which he appeared, Giordano was a walk-on tryout for the Flames. He was signed to an entry level deal and in his sophomore AHL season as a 21 year old, led the Omaha Knights in scoring. That’s the entire team (one featuring future NHLers David Moss, Eric Nystrom and Brandon Prust), not just the back-end. That season was the first real indication that the organization had stumbled upon something special.

Giordano’s road to the NHL was a rocky one nonetheless. He eventually made the Flames as a semi-regular in 2006-07, scoring 15 points in 47 games. There were both qualitative and quantitative indications that year that Giordano was "NHL ready" and poised to take on a more involved role for the club going forward.

The rest of the story is probably familiar to most Flames fans today. Giordano and his agent pressed for a one-way contract in the summer of ’07, while Darryl Sutter hoped to ink him to a two-way deal. Darryl signed journeyman veteran Anders Eriksson in response to the contractual impasse, stuffing Calgary’s blueline full of pricey regulars. As a result, Giordano accepted a deal from Dynamo Moscow of the then Russian Elite League and grew into their top blueliner, leading the team in ice time and scoring during their play-off run. He was also a feature on a Canada’s gold medal winning Spengler Cup club and was chosen as an alternate for Canada’s World Cup team in the summer of ’08. Sutter enticed Giordano back to the fold that off-season. He’s been a regular ever since.

Although some may consider 2008-09 his coming out party, Giordano really began to gain recognition this past year. Calgary’s point leader on the back-end (excluding late addition Ian White), Gio out-scored guys like all-stars Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester. He also finished the year with a team high +17 and was third amongst blueliners with a per game average of 20:50 of ice. In addition, Giordano placed third behind Bouwmeester and Regehr in terms of SH ice per night (1:53), a hair higher than the likes of Cory Sarich (1:53) and Dion Phaneuf when he was a Flame (1:17). That latter stat speaks to Giordano’s evolving utility as an NHLer: although he’s cast mainly as an offensive threat, the Brent Sutter began to lean on Giordano a lot more from a defensive angle this year.

There are other numbers that speak well of Giordano and his effect on team mates and possession. Those analyses will be saved for later this summer, but the initial inquiries have all shown that Gio is a boon to his partners. His combination of swift skating, high-end puck skills, vision and intuition helps move the puck north and further investigations on the matter will no doubt bear this out.

Giordano added another tool his toolbox this season as well: aggression. Although not overly large, Giordano was a team leader in terms of hits (153) for the Flames this year and was never shy about initiating contact or sticking up for team mates. One of my favorite memories from 2009-10 was Giordano’s determined dismantling of Kings captain Dustin Brown, captured in this highlights package:

Outside of Regehr haunting Hemsky, Flames fans haven’t seen that kind of systematic intimidation by a single player in a long time.

Of course, Gio’s bread and butter is his offensive prowess. Fast, agile, and poised with the puck on his stick, Giordano’s ability to walk the blueline in the offensive end is sublime. His contributions from the point were singled out as one of the reasons Dion Phaneuf’s $6.5M contract suddenly seemed expendable. What’s more, Giordano is also skilled at rushing the puck:

There are some reasons to temper our expectations somewhat going forward – Gio has never been called upon to regularly play against high level competition, nor has he spent a lot of time starting from his own zone. The SV% behind him last year was an unnatural .936 and will likely fall back down to earth a bit this year.

That said, the guy is a pleasure to watch and a bargain at $850k. Giordano has developed from a seventh defender to a fixed and invaluable element of a strong back-end inside of three seasons. He figures to be one of the best guys who was never drafted in the league next year.  

  • Great overview Kent. From a viewing standpoint, Gio proved to be the quickest of our d men – when the going got tough, he actually moved his feet, while many flames stood still and hoped the play would come to them. While under-utilized, he was a fantastic point man on the PP. And while he doesn’t necessarily have a rocket from the point, he has shown some significant playmaking ability in the offensive zone.

    He’s shown an excellent combination of speed, control and toughness on the back end – something this team desperately needs to compensate for the bigger, slower options (Regehr, Staios, Sarich, Pardy) of which there are plenty. He appears to fit into the post-lockout style of play very well.

    Let’s hope we can get this guy re-signed early on this season, so he doesn’t become the Zybenek Michalek of July 1 2011

  • I’m a huge supporter of Gio, he’s an awesome talent and I’m expecting to see him as a shining light in an otherwise dark and stormy season. Gotta like this hit on Pitkanen as well:

    That said, I think you should have warned WI before you publicly announced your man-crush like this. I fully expect the two of you to square off MMA-style the next time you meet up to determine which blog loves Gio more.

  • CitizenFlame

    I think that it is funny that Ivanans jumps Gio in the first video. He was the only guy to take a penalty there (according to the commentator); possibly some foreshadowing of the season ahead. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come with Ivanans. Hopefully it is with Gio.

  • CitizenFlame

    I know that was probably two of the best examples of Gio last year, of what was a pretty crappy season for the Flames but that got the juices flowing a little. It’s like the clouds just parted and the sun came out. I can’t wait for the season to start!

  • CitizenFlame

    Hey kent great article, but I noticed a slight mistake. Giordano was an alternate for Canada in 2008 World hockey championships, not the world cup of hockey.

  • dustin642

    I really hope Sutter keeps Giordano around. He brings so much to this team and is easily worth a long-term $$$ deal IMO if he keeps playing like this. I have thought a lot about how much he will make after this season, and after seeing a ton of comparable D-men cash in big time this year, it looks like a Gio deal will be north of $4M. What do you guys think he will end up getting? Sarich $$$? Regehr $$$?

    • CYMS

      I think the main thing it depends on is the upcoming season. The guy is probably worth up to 4.5 million in my opinion, but if he regresses a little next season/is willing to take a wee discount, I’m going to be optimistic and say he will sign for 3.25-3.75 for somewhere around 5-6 years. White would probably be pretty similar if signed. They strike me as very similar d-men (albeit Gio is a little heavier on the aggression and taking the body).