Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

FlamesNation Player Evaluation: Mark Giordano

Mark Giordano, 33 years young, finally hit his pay day. Well – let’s rephrase, because it’s not as though he was making chump change before.

At 33 years of age, Giordano, one of the NHL’s best defencemen, had his new contract kick in. At six years and just over $40 million, it’ll almost certainly be the biggest one he ever signs. Carrying a cap hit of $6.75 million, he officially became the Flames’ highest-paid player. That, combined with his being the team’s captain, on-ice leader, heart and soul and all of that, meant it should have been a big season for him, age be damned.

It was and it wasn’t.

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2016-17 season summary

Giordano, possibly two injuries away from two Norris Trophies in years past, didn’t look like the high-caliber defenceman we thought we knew to start the season. Maybe some of it had to do with having Dennis Wideman as a partner instead of T.J. Brodie; either way, though, his play wasn’t up to par.

It shows in his basic stat line: the 12 goals were good, but the 39 points over 81 games were the worst totals he’d had since the lockout. His shot rates were way down – he shot the puck 61 fewer times than the season before – and the 23:34 he averaged per game was his lowest since, well, the lockout, which was about when he’d established himself as a top pairing defenceman.

The Flames’ captain had something of a down year. It’s likely wasn’t entirely on him, though. The contract, due to Giordano’s age, does pose a question; however, almost the entire team had a rough start to the season in part thanks to Glen Gulutzan replacing Bob Hartley. The coaching change saw the defencemen up on the rush a whole lot less, which would help explain the lacklustre offensive totals.

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Still, Giordano was seventh in team scoring, and second out of all defencemen. He averaged the most ice time out of everybody on the Flames, and was a regular fixture on both the powerplay and penalty kill, fourth in ice time on the former and first on the latter, while putting up points in all situations. And once Dougie Hamilton became his regular defence partner, well, things really took off then.

He didn’t have the toughest circumstances ever – but he still regularly faced the opposition’s top players and was far from sheltered.

And there was nobody more deserving of making it back to the playoffs, during which he put up his first career playoff assist.

Compared to last season

Giordano’s offence may have dropped by 17 points, but his overall play undoubtedly improved. His corsi numbers shot up; over the course of 81 games, he was a 54.01% CF player at 5v5: fifth on the Flames, and 17th among all NHL defencemen with at least 500 minutes played.

One of the best ways to see just how much he improved over the past year is to turn to Corsica’s rolling average feature, and the improvement is quite defined:

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He kept his head mostly above water throughout 2015-16, but 2016-17 is a whole other story. After a rough start he was partnered with Hamilton, and never looked back after that, completely eclipsing his previous year’s proxy possession numbers and becoming even more of a force – even if it didn’t show up in his offensive numbers.

If Giordano can regain his 50-point form while maintaining that level of play, watch out.

Most common teammates

Did Giordano make his teammates better, or were they worse with him on the ice? Corsica’s WOWY tool takes his 10 more common teammates, and gives us a snapshot of his impact with them:

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As far as defence partners go, he spent the strong majority of his season with Hamilton, and it paid off. The two boosted one another’s play quite a bit, though it appears Giordano was helped more by Hamilton’s presence than vice versa.

As far as forwards go? The 3M line stands out here, as they all elevated one another’s games. In most cases, it appears Giordano really boosted other forwards’ abilities to drive play north as well, with just two exceptions: Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg. Brouwer’s numbers are much worse, and Giordano was significantly better away from him, so chances are it was Brouwer pulling both Versteeg – his most common linemate – and Giordano down.

Giordano is really good, but evidently not a miracle worker.

What’s next?

Giordano still has another five seasons to go on his contract, so hopefully good things. At this point in time, it’s really difficult to fathom him playing for any team other than the Flames – he’s pretty much a lock to be protected for the expansion draft, and his deal runs until he’s 38 years old.

Next season should be a better one. Not only did he improve a fair amount this season under a new coach and with a new defence partner, but he’ll have a full year of that. The 2017-18 season won’t feature struggles to adapt to a new system or work out kinks by playing with vastly inferior defence partners who may not even be in the league next year: from the get-go he should know exactly what he has to do, and he’ll be partnered with a blossoming number one defender in Hamilton.

It’s pretty easy to get excited about how Giordano could perform next year. He’ll be 34 years old – entirely possible he’ll be the oldest Flame by a fair amount – and the way things are going, it might not matter. Age could be but a number for Giordano in 2017-18 – one he should be able to outscore.

#1 – Brian Elliott

    • wot96

      That may be true. He can slide down the pairings until he is an overpaid third pairing guy. But…I prefer his overpay to Lucic’s. Lucic may be worth what he is being paid this year and maybe next, but he will complicate your cap enormously unless you start shedding more of the “old” core, like Eberle.

    • McRib

      It could be worse we could have signed Milan Lucic, at least Gio is a star now. If you want to keep elite talent you have to pay a longer term. Gio has a 19 team limited trade clause the final two years, if we have found better we can eat some of his salary and move on from him at that point.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Definitely would’ve been ideal from a cap perspective if his prior contract had been 8-9 years long, but he’s the kind of player worth taking that “over 30 UFA risk” on.

  • BendingCorners

    The thing about Gio is that he makes his partners better. Dougie is great but was floundering till Gio stabilized him. In a year or two Dougie will have matured to the point where he can do that for a partner too, but for now Gio is still the most complete and most valuable defenceman on the team.

  • I am Batman

    It’s hilarious how every time someone brings up this contract , many flame fans go “I would rather have Gio than Lucic”….
    1) the article is not about Lucic
    2) Lucic will be 35 not 39 when his contract expires- think there’s no difference? Go look at the stats.
    3) Lucic and Giordano play different positions, they should not be compared.
    4) as per above, which other defence men are paid close to 7? Karlsson? OEL? Well… Giordano is no Karlsson , for sure, not last season, not this season, no next season…. that’s an ugly ugly contract.
    5) Lucic is still in the playoffs, Giordano can’t beat the ducks….