Few NHL players have taken a longer and more winding road than Mark Giordano. The Flames captain was undrafted in junior, undrafted in the NHL and played a year in Russia as a 25-year-old. That’s the resume of untold numbers of failed pro hockey players – guys who dominated their house and high school leagues but could never quite make it over the hump. Indeed when Gio fled for Europe during his contract dispute, many figured it was the last any of us would see of him on NHL ice.
Not so much.
The Gio contract kerfuffle was one of the first indications back in the day that Darryl Sutter wasn’t some sort of omniscient hockey savant in the front office. The erstwhile Flames coach had built himself a cult of personality in town after guiding the Flames to the Stanley Cup Final and pulling off a series of lopsided trades (Kiprusoff for a second round pick, Langkow for Saprykin, Huselius for Montador).
In the summer of 2007, Sutter offered Giordano (then a sophomore coming off seven goals and 15 points in a 48-game rookie season) a two-way contract. He also signed veteran defender Anders Eriksson to an already crowded Calgary blueline, clearly indicating that Giordano would be starting his season in the minors.
GIo balked and signed a one-year deal with Dynamo Moscow instead. The Flames blueline tottered along that year with the likes of Rhett Warrener, David Hale, Jim Vandermeer, Cory Sarich and the aforementioned Eriksson (who was terrible at double the price of Giordano).
Gio flourished overseas, becoming one of Dynamo’s top defenders. He also represented Canada in a couple of international tournaments., including the Allan Cup and World Championships. To Sutter’s credit, he realized his error and brought Giordano back for the 2008-09 season.
It would be easy to say “the rest is history”, but in fact Giordano’s climb up the Flames depth chart was relatively gradual and incremental from there. It wasn’t until the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, when the team was pushed face first into their current rebuild, that Gio began to truly establish himself as the club’s top defender.
The trades of Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and Jay Boumeester over the years cleared a path to the club’s top defense pairing, where Giordano ultimately flourished (with the help of upstart youngster T.J. Brodie). Since 2013, Giordano has been ensconced in the conversation as one of the league’s most dangerous offensive defenders, if not one of best blue liners overall.
At 31 years old this year, Gio scored a career high 21 goals and 56 points this season. He was the Flames’ third leading scorer behind just Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and one of only three Flames to score over 20 goals.
So just how good is Giordano anyways? Let’s put his performance in context:
Mark Giordano’s Badasssss Stats
– Giordano was sixth amongst NHL defensemen in overall scoring this year. Amongst those top six, he was the least reliant on PP points (just 19 of 56). He is one of only two top-10 defenders with fewer than 20 points with the man advantage. Imagine if the Flames PP hadn’t been terrible most of the year?
– This year, Giordano became only one of 12 defenders to score 20 or more goals in a single season over the last decade.
– Giordano is fourth amongst all defenders in terms of PPG pace over the last three seasons at 0.73. The only guys ahead of him are Erik Karlsson (1.0), Brent Burns (0.82) and Kris Letang (0.81). Keep in mind, Burns has seen some time at forward over that time period. Some guys he is ahead of? PK Subban (0.71), Duncan Keith (0.66), Shea Weber (0.65) and Dustin Byfuglien (0.68), to name a few.
– In fact, Giordano is top 10 in almost any offensive category you care to name over the last three years amongst defenders.
– Giordano scored at such a high pace despite playing some of the toughest minutes in the entire league. Observe:
This chart shows the ration of offensive zone starts (X-axis) and quality of competition (Y-axis) as well as each player’s relative possession (colour of circle). Defenders to the right start more often in the offensive zone and guys near the top play tougher competition. Guys in blue have better possession rates relative to their teammates, while guys in red are worse.
As you can see, over the last three seasons Giordano has played in arguably the toughest circumstances amongst the various Norris candidates listed here. He also boasts one of the best relative corsi rates. Even Chara and Weber, who are the only guys in Giordano’s ballpark in terms of ice time difficulty, can’t handle these circumstances and still effectively drive play.
– Giordano is now fourth all time amongst Flames defenders in terms of points with 301. Only MacInnis (822), Suter (564) and Reinhart (445) are ahead of him.
Mark Giordano is not only one of the best players on the Flames currently, he’ll likely go down as one of the best defenders this franchise has ever seen. His level of play, professionalism and inspiring story also make him one of the most deserving players to ever don the Captain’s “C” for this organization.
How Good is…?