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.
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.
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)
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.