In the final installment of our series, it’s all about the future. Mark Giordano has seen a remarkable rise to prominence in a very short period of time, starting with his fairly humble beginnings as an unsigned free agent through his time in Russia and now being one of the most important players on the Calgary Flames heading into the coming season. Giordano enters this campaign in the largest role he’s ever played, and judging from how he’s met challenges in the past, the future looks to remain very, very bright.
"The team signed me to an extension and they’re expecting big things," Giordano told me in August. "For myself I’m going in and I’m trying to fight for that position to be the guy to play against the other team’s top lines."
Laying all the cards on the table, this will be the first time the 28 year old defenceman will be put in a top pairing situation. The past two years, the pair of seasons where Giordano has made the largest impression, have seen him behind names like Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf on the depth chart; the former two having seen the most time in the toughest situations.
A guy as talented as Giordano is going to look pretty darn good in a second pairing role, as Regehr and Bouwmeester saw the bulk of time against the heavies on the other side. However, I don’t believe Mark was only doing good things because he was behind that pairing, and I certainly don’t believe he’s going to struggle in his new role. That’s my personal view of the situation, and there’s two reasons for it.
First, Giordano is eager and ready to play in the position, and he’s got all the confidence in the world he can do the job.
"That’s a huge challenge, and it’s a huge challenge for any player," Giordano said. "For me it’s an exciting thing, I wanna be in those situations, I mean there’s nothing better than being on a winning team and playing in those roles and being a difference maker, so there’s no better feeling and there’s nothing players would rather have than playing those roles, so I’m excited.
You have to get better in this league and you have to learn how to play well against the top lines, because those are the guys who get all the minutes, so if you want the minutes I think as a defenceman you have to be able to play against those top lines, especially in your own end."
Second, for the majority of last season, Giordano had to play top four minutes without a top four partner, at least in my eyes. This is not meant to be a slight at Cory Sarich, not by any stretch, as I think he’s still a capable NHL defender. However, I don’t see him being a consistent top four blueliner at this stage in his career. There’s no question Giordano did most of the heavy lifting between the two, and it went a long way in making the pairing pretty darn effective.
That said, Giordano seems to have taken a lot from his defensive partner from last year, as Sarich has played tough shutdown minutes before in his career, and done it very well. In fact, Mark credits a few of his teammates for helping him have the confidence to tackle his new role.
"We’ve got guys like (Sarich) and now with Hannan and (Bouwmeester), who have played those big minutes and who have played against those top lines throughout their careers and being with those guys and being around those guys helps and playing with them a little bit helps."
The Flames hope to a playoff team once again this season, and if they’re to reach that goal, Giordano is going to have to be a big part of it. He was a large contributor as the team went on their torrid run last season through January and February, and he’s hoping the team picks up right where they left off.
"It was pretty exciting to get back into contention there last year and get on a little bit of a run," Giordano told me. "Still, we were disappointed that we didn’t finish the job, you know, we felt as a team we played really well and let it slip at the end, so, now is the time to let that go and start another chapter and I think with the team that we’ve got, we made a few tweaks here and there, and we’re pretty confident."
As I conducted my interview with Mark last month, something became very clear to me (aside from how good a three part series it would make): Giordano has turned himself into one of the go to voices in that room on the media side of things. And if you talk to people in and around the Flames circle, he’s also become a trusted voice in the locker room. He sure did sound like a leader when analyzing the coming year for the team.
"I think we have to do a better job as a team early on in the season," Giordano said. "Not getting away from anything because something doesn’t go right or we have a stretch of a couple bad games.
I think that’s where, in the past, we’ve let it slip a bit, we’ve gotten away from what we’re doing right, what makes us successful, so we can’t get away from our game, I think we have to believe that we’re a pretty good team when we’re playing that way and not let anything slip because we have a bad night, I think last year and the year before there were stretches where, you don’t get those stretches back when you lose a bunch in a row.
We just have to get out of that mindest of saying, and it’s hard to, but saying ‘oh we have to come out flying out of the gate’ or ‘we have to win this many games’ I think over the course of an 82 game season if we play that way, we’re gonna get points and we’re gonna get wins and we’re gonna be where we want to be at the end of the day."
Some Flames fans may not be as optimistic about the coming season as Giordano, and there would be reasons to justify it. However, you don’t run into many fans who aren’t excited and positive about the prospects of Calgary’s #5, and there are certainly myriad reasons to justify that.