FN’s All-Time Greatest Flames Team: Mark Giordano

In 2002, Mark Giordano’s draft year, eight defensemen were chosen in the first round, including guys named Steve Eminger and Anton Babchuk. Today, only one of those players is still a regular skater in the NHL – Jay Bouwmeester – chosen third overall by the Florida Panthers. And, unlike Giordano, none of them were in line for a major NHL award last season.

The Flames current captain is the most unlikely inductee into our All-time Flames team. His rise to greatness might be the most compelling the organization has ever seen. 

Career Statistics

Giordano wasn’t chosen in 2002. In fact, he was never really on the radar as a legitimate prospect at any point in junior. He was passed over in the draft twice more and headed to career as an accountant before giving hockey one last try. 

In 2004, after a stand-out training camp, the Flames signed Gio as a walk-on tryout to a contract that doesn’t even exist in today’s NHL; a three-way deal, so the team could pay him even less than his AHL salary should he be demoted to the ECHL. 

A year later, as a blueline sophomore, Giordano lead the farm team in scoring with 16 goals and 58 points.

Little did anyone know at the time, but the young upstart’s rise from undrafted, training camp hopeful to team leading scorer in the space of two seasons would be a microcosm for the rest of Giordano’s incredible, unlikely and inspiring career: a rapid, unforeseen ascent from nobody to someone.

Giordano’s obstacles didn’t end there, however. 

The next season, he split time between the farm and parent club, eventually usurping Flames regulars like Rhett Warrener and David Hale by the end of the year. That wasn’t enough to convince Darryl Sutter, however. The taciturn GM offered the 24-year old a two way contract and then signed Anders Eriksson to a one-way, multi-year contract, effectively filling out the club’s defense corps. 

Instead of riding the bus in the minors and dodging waivers during call-ups, Giordano fled to Russia where he established himself as one of the league’s better young defenders for Moscow Dynamow. Even then, most Flames fans figured Gio would play out the rest of his days as a modest star in a lesser league, eking out marginal pay cheques before retiring in obscurity, like many other fringe players. He was written off as a failed experiment, once again under-estimated. 

The Flames blueline struggled in his absence (particularly Eriksson) opening the door for Giordano’s return the next season. 

From there, it has been a gradual, clocklike progression as Giordano moved from legitimate NHLer, to top four defender, to top pairing material until finally emerging as a high impact, norris caliber superstar at 30-years old. In the wake of perhaps the best player and most beloved captain the organization has ever known, Giordano has somehow stepped into the void to become the face of the franchise and the symbol of the team’s rebirth into a new era.

This past summer, Giordano signed his retirement contract with Calgary – a deal worth north of $40M that will likely see him finish his career with the team that gave him that first chance in the league – and then nearly gave up on him all too early.  

Greatest Moments

Flames Milestones (so far)

  • Named Flames 19th captain September, 2013
  • 2-time NHL all star (2013-14, 2014-15)
  • 5th most games played amongst defenders in franchise history (510)
  • 5th most points by a Flames defenseman (245)
  • 5th most goals by a Flames defenseman (66)

Legacy

Giordano’s incredible story isn’t over yet. His on-ice impact is matched only by his off-ice character and perseverance. As it stands, Giordano is not only Calgary’s best player, he’s also the club’s emotional core.

We can’t know precisely how Gio’s legacy will look once everything is said and done. What’s clear, however, is that the Flames and their fans alike are incredibly fortunate and privileged to have him. 

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Part of me thinks when years go by and he is long retired that he will never get the recognition he deserves for as good a player as he his. His undrafted long journey to the NHL will leave him well under his counterparts for stats due to just fewer NHL games played, some injury trouble over the years and his lack of draft pedigree.

    Here’s to hoping he blows the doors off the next few years to make sure he cements himself in the history books. A Norris trophy would go a long way towards achieving that. Two or three? Even better…

    • Train#97

      One question . Are you saying he has to blow the doors off for the next few years to be considered one of the top Flames of all time.?
      It sounds like the few years that he has been at the top are not enough considering he was a late bloomer.

  • Burnward

    Gio’s legacy to me will always be the change in culture that took place under his Captaincy.

    Credit to Burke, Hartley and Treliving as well but it’s Gio that leads the way for the boys.

    • Captain Ron

      I disagree, he would be on my top six. Imagine a pairing of he and Jamie what a pain they would be. If it was TJ or Dougie then I would agree. Howver in a decade we may be including both of them Gio, Big Al and Suter.

  • RKD

    This guy can do it all, he will be one of the greatest Flames of all time and one of the greatest undrafted players player as well. Looking forward to seeing him lay some more big hits on Dustin Brown in the coming years!

  • RKD

    @ Kent Wilson

    According to Ritch Winter, Gio’s agent, Gio’s decision to go to KHL was not only due to the two-way deal he was offered by Sutter but also because of concerns over Mike Keenan, where he didn’t know whether he would end up playing 10 games for 3 minutes a night or 82 games for 35 minutes a night, and that he wanted more playing time. Brave, if not a savvy move, by Gio.

  • Byron Bader

    Well written piece, Kent! As soon as Gio came in the Detroit series in 2007 and started to light it up I thought “this guy looks like he has something”. Always been a really big fan of his and I love how at every corner he continues to be an outlier. Undrafted three times over, earns a spot for a few months, goes to Russia because he’s not satisfied with the situation here, comes back earns a spot again and now has had back-to-back Norris type seasons (cut short by injury) and is getting better and better as he’s about to turn 32. He’s an enigma and I hope he still makes that contract look amazing in six years. If there’s a guy to do it … it’ll be Gio.

    I think in the decades that pass Gio, Iggy and Lanny will always be remembered as the best captains the team ever had.