The Rise of Gio Part 2: From Russia With Love

When Mark Giordano decided to play with Moscow Dynamo of the then Russian Superleague for the 2007-08 season, many viewed it as a colossal gaffe from Calgary Flames management.  After spending most of the prior season with the big club, Giordano and the Flames were unable to come to a contract agreement, prompting the young defenceman to try his hand overseas.  The overall result was a positive one for both sides, and Giordano still believes the right decision was made…by both parties.

Mark Giordano with Pat Steinberg Part 2

"I had played most of the season up, I was a healthy scratch a bunch of games, but I felt at the time that I can play," Giordano told me last month.  "I wasn’t sure I was a full time, career NHLer and I sat down with my family, with my agent, and I had a good opportunity to go play in Russia and take care of myself financially as well, because I didn’t know if I was going to be an on the bubble guy for the rest of my career."

The snag in contract negotations came down to a one way contract versus a two way contract; at the time, GM Darryl Sutter wasn’t prepared to give Giordano a one way deal, with less than one full season under his NHL belt.  Both sides have valid arguments.

On the one hand, Mark had played 55 NHL games prior to his contract coming up, so a case could be made he hadn’t done enough to earn his one way deal.  On the flip side, there were select observers who saw big things from the then 23 year old.  I have been too critical of Darryl on this particular topic, as I do understand the logic that says you have to earn a one way deal.  Giordano understands the logic too.

"It was pretty simple," Giordano said.  "Darryl basically talked through my agent to me and said ‘we have seven veteran guys on the blueline and we think Gio can play but we’re not willing to give him a one way contract.’  And he had every right to do so, he was probably right when you look back on it."

"From my end of things, I was looking at it from the other end of the spectrum," Giordano reflected.  "I wasn’t an everyday NHLer, I thought I could be, I thought there was the opportunity there to become one, but I didn’t know for sure and I had a great opportunity to take care of myself…I know for a fact that I didn’t want to let that opportunity slide and then be and up and down guy for the rest of my career and regret it."

When talking to Mark about the experience, the jist of it is pretty clear: there is and never was hard feelings.

"There was no ill will, obviously everyone’s reaction is going to be, you know ‘Gio left and him and Darryl had this big dispute’ but it was pretty simple."

And that lack of ill will made it a whole lot easier for Giordano to return to the Calgary Flames the following season, where his ascension really began.

"I still always wanted to play in the NHL in the back of my mind and come back," Giordano told me.  "I made the decision and stuck by it, I didn’t go back on anything and played the full year in Russia and then got sort of a break, I don’t know if it’s  a break or what you would call it, but it was lucky."

Or was it?  Hockey people, including those in the Flames organization, didn’t want to loss Giordano to Russia, and they had high hopes for him.  When Mark’s season was done in Moscow, a good one at that, Calgary seemed pretty eager to get him locked up a little more longterm.

"I got a three year, one way after I had a pretty good year over there," Giordano said.  "It worked out but it could have gone a lot of different ways, but I think the main thing is when you make a decision like that you just gotta stick by your beliefs."

It was a risk that paid off for both sides.  The Flames got three productive years out of Giordano on his last contract, a contract that turned into one hell of a bargain in the final two years.  Giordano now has a big contract, a deal he earned by his solid play, as he signed a five year pact worth $4.025 million per season.  With that contract kicking in for the coming season, things are still pointed up for him.

"There’s a lot of players who have one good season and that’s it," said Giordano as he looked ahead to the coming year.  "I don’t want to be one of those guys, I don’t want to be a player who just is around for a short while, now I have the confidence and I believe in myself and I think that I can play at a high leve in this league."

That he can, and that’s why he’s one of the most intriguing storylines of the coming year.  In part three of our series, we’ll look ahead to his expectations for the coming year and how he’ll tackle his new rule: being a bonafide, top two defenceman for the first time in his NHL career.

  • I dont think its a matter of who was right & who was wrong in the one way versus two way contract.It just seems to be or perhaps was the Flame motto of not giving young players a chance. That is the thing that has to change. We just about lost Gio, for what? We lost Erixon for that same reason, lack of ooportunity and I sure hope we give guys like Brodie & Breen a chance. Many will say neither is ready but at what point do you give your prospects the chance to play, make mistakes and to forge their own in the league. I believe there should be 1 defenceman & 1 forward position always made available for the whole year for good prospects to gain that NHL experience. Carrying these 2 low salary positions also allows you to spend & upgrade other positions.

    • Vintage Flame

      Brodie will be given plenty of chances this year in training camp… But don’t expect too much from Breen in respects to a regular roster spot. If there is an injury or other emergency, then Breen might get the call, but only if Brodie is already with the the Flames.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      It was pretty clear by observation that D. Stutter preferred a veteran line up, and was always willing to move youth in favor of a known quantity. That said, the Erixon deal was different. I suspected the player had nevere intended to sign with the Flames, and after hearing Feaster’s comments at the Town Hall, I’m even more certain.

      • Vintage Flame

        I can see the similarities in the Gio and Erixon situations actually. I don’t disagree that Erixon had alterior motives in leaving or even not signing with Calgary. But the root of the issue is basically the same concerns expressed by both players.

        • ChinookArchYYC

          I posted my personal conspiracy theory when Rocco (a FN writer hopeful) wrote about the Tim Erixon mess. It still burns me that he was rewarded with exactly what he wanted, and was traded to the Rangers. I really wish the Flames were in a position to send him to the the Islanders or even the Panthers, but the little !?€£¥ likely was threatening potential suitors that he would not sign with them.

          • Vintage Flame

            Haha.. Well I guess you never know about that.

            I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if there was tampering in some form either from the Rangers or Erixon’s dad, but I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that Tim was threatening other potential teams with not signing there either. That just seems a little far fetched to me. Who knows?

          • ChinookArchYYC

            As I said, it’s a conspiracy theory. One thing that is a reasonable guess, he strung the Flames out long enough to ensure they had few options, but to deal him. And as Feaster said the Rangers were consistently calling to enquire about the player. My guess is that the deal was cooked up by Jay Grossman (Erixon agent) and the Rangers. So yes, I’d push the NHL to look at tampering.

  • Vintage Flame

    I think it says a lot about the character of Gio, as a player and as a man, the fact hat he didn’t, harbor any I’ll feeling towards Darryl or the organization, when he left for Russia.

    A lot of people may think, “Easy for him to say now.”.. Has the contract and can save face, but at the time he was probably pretty bitter. I don’t necessarily prescribe to this theory, since he came back so quickly to the Flames, and so eagerly.

  • ChinookArchYYC


    I heard your original interview with Giordano a few weeks ago. It w probably one of the best NHL player interviews that I’ve heard. Full marks on some really good questioning, but a lot of credit goes to Giordano for giving thoughtful, and complete answers. I was pleasantly surprised with the candid answers he provided, and so I definately believe him when he says their were never any hard feelings over the year in the KHL. I’ll definately tune into future interviews with this guy.

    Thanks for the good work!

  • robficiur

    It is interesting to look back at the 2007-2008 Flames to see who these seven NHL defesnmen were.

    It looks like they were

    Dion Phaneuf
    Robyn Regehr

    Rhett Warner
    Adrian Aucoin

    Anders Erickson
    Jim Vandemeer

    Cory Sarich

    That year Warner played 21 games. Later in the year the team went out and got DAvid Hale.

    We know that Erickson did not play well that year.

    Hindsight is perfect – and of course we weren’t in on the negotiations – but Flames are lucky that Gio came back to the team. When i listened to the interview – Mark thought that his move to Russia helped make his career – so it all worked out – well all except for the 2007-2008 season.

  • Is said it at the time and I’ll say it now: Darryl’s unwillingness to “gamble” on Giordano that year was just plain dumb. Some of the veterans he had on the blueline (*ahem* Eriksson) were twice as expensive and a poor bet to better than Gio. He’d only played a limited number of games in his career, but his results at every level of the organization up to that point were excellent. There were zero reason to stack a bunch of guys ahead of him on the back-end and then demand a two-way deal from him.

    Luckily it worked out. The ultimate irony is Giordano may end up being the best player procured/developed by the org during the Sutter era and he was both undrafted and had to spend one of his formative years developing in Russia.

    • Kent, I agree that Giordano was a better option than a few of the guys Sutter decided to go with for that seasons.

      However, I have no problem with Darryl not signing him to a one way contract after only 55 NHL games. Give him a chance on the big club? Absolutely would have had no problem with it; but a one way contract is another thing in my mind.

      It was the one way vs. two way that ended up seeing Giordano head to Russia, not that Eriksson was slotted ahead of him. In that respect, I don’t think Sutter handled the thing as horribly as it’s been portrayed.

      Us saying “if Giordano would have gotten a chance, he would have stayed” might suit an argument, but we don’t know if it’s the truth or not.

      • icedawg_42

        The flip side to this, is if Darryl had given him a 1 way deal, then “chicken out” after training camp and bury him in the minors 1 way, which I could see Sutter doing, given his love for veterans…All in all, I believe Gio when he says he learned a lot in Russia, the most important thing is that he’s here now, and a lock to wear a letter in the very near future (I would be shocked not to see an “A” on his shoulder now that Reggie has departed.

  • I think within the next 2-3 years Gio will either win or be nominated for the Norris trophy. He is some kinda player who is very underrated by casual hockey fans. He does it all, defence, offense, special teams, he’s a very special player. And to think how close the Flames were to losing him… Great work Pat!

    • I agree with you schevvy re: Gio winning the Norris. Except, it is SHOULD win, but likely won’t in the next couple years.

      His name isn’t Lidstrom, Chara, Weber, or Doughty, so I doubt he will win anytime soon. Hell, Gio didn’t even get a single vote for this year’s Norris. Kipper is going to need to stop letting in so many pucks so his +/- goes up a bit, and he’ll need to reduce the number of PIM he takes.

      Otherwise, good to go. Gio for Norris!

    • I’m a huge Giordano fan, and I firmly believe he’ll be able to handle his new responsiblities with no issue.

      However, lets not forget this will be the first time he’s ever taken on top pairing responsibilities in the NHL.

      I think he’s a great defenceman, and he will have another hell of a season, but I also am keeping the circumstances in mind.

  • Wanyes bastard child

    Kind of off topic but I was you tubing and came along this forgotten gem;

    While im no flames fan or canucks fan, no one can doubt the integrity and class that Iginla displays here. If Feaster ever does trade him I will personally make the 3 hour drive down south just to donkey punch him!

    Also… GO OILERS!!!

    That is all.

  • Emir

    If gio can have a solid season I think he can have a chance at getting into the Norris conversation. To say he will win or be nominated is a bit of a stretch in my mind at this time. Its awesome to see an undrafted guy get this far, its a tremendous story.

  • RKD

    Sutter was a very stubborn GM. He kept telling us the Flames were one player away from being an elite team.

    I’m sure the exp. in Russia was good for Gio, the real test comes this season playing more minutes in a shutdown role.

    Can we see a little more effort on the Photoshop?
    At least remove the white outlines:)

  • However, I have no problem with Darryl not signing him to a one way contract after only 55 NHL games.

    Giordano was 24-years old at the time. He had already played a couple seasons in the AHL and actually led them in scoring one year. During his 55-game stint in Calgary, his underlying numbers were outstanding. By the end of the year, there was no question he was a superior option to, say, David Hale and probably Rhett Warrener.

    Choosing to draw a line in the sand at two-way deal with that kind of player is just silly. Aside from his limited number of games, there was zero reason to think Giordano wasn’t an NHLer at that point.

    In addition, I’m quite sure Giordano would have been rapidly approaching the end of his waiver exempt status by 2007-08.

    Giordano had 3 years of pro under his belt. His results were excellent. He outperformed a number of vets during his rookie season. His waiver exemption was either expired or was going to expire soon. And he would have cost less than $1M to sign.

    A two-way deal at that time for that player just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not a hill I would have chosen to die on as a GM at least.
    That said, it seems to have worked out for the best.

    • Totally agree!The thing with Daryl is he is an old school boy & given the NHL history of the family, you can see where that trait came from. With the exception of Brent, who benefited from some pretty decent Islanders teams, all the Sutters fought slugged and clawed their way to the NHL. Hard work and perserverence was their trade mark and the feeling is, that’s the price to play. The tough love thing. Dion is one of the first rookies I’ve seen him go the exception and fast tracked Dion. I think why he was put on Tilt when they had to trade Dion

    • The methodology that says “I’d like to see a guy play for his one way contract” is one I don’t disagree with. Personally, I can see Darryl’s side, to an extent.

      That said, had he not had such marginal talent on the depth chart in front of Giordano, a one way contract may have been much more of a realistic possibility.

      I feel like a lot of this is hindsight being 20/20

      • Wanyes bastard child

        The problem with the use of the “I’d like to see a guy play for his one way contract” methodology in this scenario is that Giordano had proven his usefulness in his play for at least a $800,000 per year one way contract. Anders Ericksson had proved he was terrible and got a one way contract. Number of games played does not equal bettter player.

        Giordano lays it right out there, ” I had a great opportunity to take care of myself” ie take the money and run. He wasn’t going to take the risk – which was substantial given the Flames’ roster make up – that he was going to go up and down again and make minor league money. While Gio can say it was “understandable” now, it was at the time, and remains to this day, a bad decision by Sutter.

        And for all those saying “The year in Russia helped him develop” what we don’t know is how much better or how much sooner Gio would have gotten to this level with that year spent in the NHL. The best we can surmise is the year in Russia didn’t ruin his prospects.

          • Pat, thats the point. We’re saying the methodology is wrong. Darryl had assumed a pretty good young core ready to take the next step together at the sacrifice of Nieuy & Fleury to get us Regehr & Iggy. Daryl brought street smarts to a team starving for the playoffs & Daryl maintained a playoff bound team thru some good trades & trades giving up our prospects & draft picks. I would hardly call this good methodology as the young core Daryl took the reins of is now considered an old core & we are ranked as one of the worst teams in the league from a prospect talent perspective. I know Daryl wanted to win it all for the City of Calgary, but like what I saw on the Jurrasic Park movies we had to endure all weekend, some of the worst things happen from the best of intentions. We just lucked out with Gio, other players would have told DS to go pound salt. Fortunately, Gio is now one of the key building blocks for this team that is about to go through a huge transition.
            I just cant get behind defending Daryl’s rationale on this two way contract philosophy on a guy like Gio when this is the man that isnt far behind Glen Sather for giving out some of the most horrendous contracts.
            I know, no point in shooting the horse twice eh.

          • I guess I can agree with the methodology too. Then I guess we are both agreed that given Giordano had played good enough and Ericksson had not – Darryl Sutter did not use that methodology – leading to a poor decision on who to agree to one-way contract with?

          • Yeah I’d agree with that; I think Sutter made the wrong call in this case, because I think Gio had done enough.

            Between Giordano on a one way or Ericsson, there’s certainly no debate.

            That said, it likely wouldn’t have been an issue had Ericsson and others not been…employed.