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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Giordano’s deserving playoff return

By now most of us are aware that Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano hasn’t played a playoff game in almost a decade. Thanks to injuries and a run of poor Calgary seasons, Giordano’s last playoff game was way back on April 22, 2007 in a 2-1 double overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

Well, when the Flames take on the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night, Giordano will return to postseason action for the first time since then. Knowing how far he’s come and how important he’s been to the team, I can’t think of a guy more deserving to get that shot again.

A look back

“It’s been a long, long time and honestly…you don’t play for anything else as you get older. You play to win and to try to get, you know, obviously the ultimate goal. That’s your goal every year: you want to chip away, get in the playoffs, and give yourself a chance as a team and as an individual. It feels good to be right in the mix right now and it’ll feel even better [when] we get into that first round.” – Mark Giordano

For those of us who remember, Giordano didn’t even have a full season under his belt when he got his first taste of playoff hockey. In fact, when Giordano made his playoff debut in game three of that series with Detroit, he had a grand total of 55 NHL games to his name. A decade in the NHL is a long frigging time and Gio’s headshot progression during that time will speak visually to that.

Not only has Giordano morphed dramatically since 2007 (more on that later), but the organization has gone through myriad changes during that time, too. No one on that 2007 team is still a member of the Flames; in fact, only a select few (Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf) are still playing in the league! Here are a few other facts to really drive home how long it has been since Giordano played playoff hockey:

  • Giordano replaced David Hale (!!) on Calgary’s blueline against the Red Wings.
  • Andrei Zyuzin was Giordano’s defence partner on the team’s third pairing in that series.
  • Brad Stuart led the Flames in ice time (34:17) in Giordano’s last playoff game.
  • Dominik Hasek, Robert Lang, Kirk Maltby, Mathieu Schneider, and Chris Chelios were all gainfully employed by Detroit.

As Giordano gets set for Game 1 against the Ducks, he does so as one of the best defencemen in the league and one of the most important players on his team. In 2007, though, Giordano was still on a three-year, three-way contract (yes, those existed) and was eighth on the team’s defensive depth chart heading into the postseason. I’m not sure anyone saw what was to come.

Gio’s journey

“Just going through my career, I mean, seeing how hard it has been to get to the playoffs and getting a good taste of it two years ago, you really are happy for the guys who put in so much hard work. A guy like Gio, who brings it every night, and unfortunately he got hurt two years ago but, you know, he’s wanted this so bad and you could see it. Everybody wants it, but I think the older guys like me, him, who haven’t seen it as much, you know, you really can see the excitement. For myself… that’s the one guy I’m really excited for is Gio.” – Matt Stajan

Knowing where and what he was in 2007, very few saw Giordano’s transformation coming. We’re talking about the true definition of a late bloomer because, while he was passable in that series against Detroit, he still didn’t look like a future Norris Trophy candidate. Giordano was 23 when he played his last playoff game and looked like a nice depth piece for the team going forward. The following season, though, he was buried deeper than any of us could have imagined.

Following Calgary’s six game series loss to the Red Wings, Giordano and the team failed to agree to a new contract and he made the rather bold decision to join Moscow Dynamo in what was then the Russian Super League. It was a strange decision at the time, but it made sense for him, and just like that Gio was gone with questions about when, or if, he’d be back with the organization.

**Note: I dug up this FN antique from six years ago after a candid conversation I had with Gio on his Russia decision.**

Thankfully, after one season in Moscow, Giordano and then-GM Daryl Sutter agreed to a new contract for the 2008-09 season. That’s where things really started to take off. Giordano returned to the Flames as a capable NHL defenceman to start and rapidly improved year over year from there.

When he signed his five-year extension in October of 2010, Giordano had already established himself as one of the most underrated players in the league. In fact, his $4.02 million cap hit was a bargain for virtually the entire span of the contract. But it took a few years for Giordano to truly join the ranks of the league’s best blueliners.

For me, Giordano’s final echelon jump came to start the 2013-14 season. With the Jarome Iginla trade behind them, Giordano was named the team’s 19th captain and really hasn’t looked back from there. In his first few seasons back from Russia, Giordano was a somewhat sheltered second pairing defenceman. The last four seasons, however, have been a different story, as the graphic below shows.

Since the 2013-14 campaign, Giordano has been hammered with defensive zone starts and top end competition while also evolving into one of the league’s more productive players at his position. In fact, since the start of the ’13-14 season, Giordano’s 1.03 even strength points-per-60 is 14th best among defencemen, ahead of names like Kris Letang and Shea Weber.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence, either, that both of Giordano’s regular partners during that time have come into their own. Prior to this year, Giordano was paired almost exclusively with T.J. Brodie for a three year period before forming his current partnership with Dougie Hamilton early this season. Both Brodie and Hamilton have enjoyed their most NHL success to date alongside Gio. Of course, those two guys deserve a ton of credit, too, because they’re really good players, but Giordano’s influence can’t go totally ignored.

Since returning from Russia, Giordano has rapidly turned into an elite defenceman. The Flames wouldn’t have made the playoffs two years ago without him, and they wouldn’t be where they are today without another stellar season from their captain, either.

A postseason return

“He’s just been an engine for us back there, he drives us on the back end and, yeah, I might be more excited than he is. I don’t know, but it feels that way as a coach.” – Glen Gulutzan

Because Gio tore up his biceps in February of 2015, he was unable to participate in Calgary’s postseason that year. But as Ari pointed out on Tuesday, with Giordano healthy two years later, it makes the Flames look even better on the blueline than they did against Vancouver and Anaheim in 2015. That has to bode well for the team’s chances against a very good Ducks team.

Regardless of what happens the next number of weeks, though, it’s really cool to see Giordano get another crack at postseason hockey. His transformation over the last 10 years has been pretty stunning and it came about thanks in large part to a heap of hard work. Knowing how hard he’s worked, and how many twists and turns his road has taken, I can’t think of a guy more deserving of another playoff opportunity than Giordano.

  • class1div1

    It was a bad move by D Sutter to offer Gio a two way contract after he had proven himself a capable NHL’er.Gio didn’t come back from Russia a capable player. He went to Russia a capable player held back by a stubborn GM.Arguably one of the best undrafted players in the league.So fortunate to have him.

    • FuNky ANGER

      I thought I remember reading an article where Gio said going to Russia really helped him develop his game and skating speed. If he didnt go to Russia maybe he wouldn’t be the same elite player he is today. Who know; if I was eating borscht soup everday with the Mafia over looking your shoulder I would do whatever it took to get back to the NHL.

      • class1div1

        Gio was not happy with being offered a two way contract after proving he could play in the NHL. Russia was his response to Sutters lame offer. Am sure that playing there was more beneficial than playing in the AHL,but in the end it was a wasted year that should never have happened.

        • oddclod

          At 24 I’d go for the cool million and euro babes. Regardless he’s a real cool cat considering how he handled Sutter. A signature move by a no doubt “Great” captain.

  • Alberta Ice

    We missed Gio two years ago. So glad to see him healthy and ready to go this time around. Besides his excellent defensive skills, I have been impressed by his leadership as the Flames captain.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Speaking of returning to playoffs.. I can’t believe I’m even contemplating this… But… Replacing Bouma with… (call me crazy)… Brandon Bollig on the forth line might not be as utterly ridiculous as that sounds… Bollig has actually been praised down in Stockton and has always stepped up in Playoffs before!(yeah just like Brouwer, right?) Besides if someone needs to step up and take one for the team(eg: Beating down N,Thompson or such other trash on the Quacks) without hurting the current team chemistry while being in the box, well ??? Besides this could be Bollig’s Shot at redemption and a possible contract somewhere in the NHL next year… that is a lot to get up and play for… esp against a team like the Quacks, a good showing could get him noticed and back on the radar screen for other teams! Long shot for sure… Meh, Maybe I’m just playoff-punch-drunk-insane?