I think we all know Flames captain Mark Giordano is having an outstanding season, and some around these parts have started throwing around the words “Norris Trophy”. We’re not even halfway through the year, but those whispers aren’t off base. Not only has Giordano been one of the league’s best defensemen through the first two months of 2018-19, he’s also off to one of the best offensive starts in franchise history.
Let’s start with some historical context when talking about Giordano’s offensive numbers. With 29 points in 29 games, Giordano is the fourth defenceman in team history with outputs like that to start a season. Only Al MacInnis, Gary Suter, and Phil Housley have had better offensive totals through their first 29 games; overall, Giordano’s start to the season is tied for sixth best amongst Calgary blueliners.
Let’s digest for a second, because the chart above tells an important story. Other than Giordano, you have to go back almost a quarter century since a Calgary defenceman was in point-per-game territory through 29 games. Not taking anything away from the incredible careers of MacInnis, Suter, or Housley, but those guys were playing in a different era where offence was much easier to come by. For Giordano to be in their neighbourhood in this day and age is significant.
For the most part, though, the Flames haven’t been blessed with a ton of elite offensive blueliners over the last 20 years, so Giordano’s place in team history only paints part of the picture. When you compare him to the rest of the league this season, Giordano stacks up in impressive fashion, too.
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So why such a huge offensive season thus far for the captain? Aside from him simply being a really good player, I think you can point to a couple different things. First off, at 3:33 per game, Giordano is averaging more powerplay time than at any point in his career. Crucially, almost every single second of that has been on Calgary’s top unit, which hasn’t typically been the case in years past. In fairness, though, Giordano is also producing at a top 10 rate five-on-five, so powerplay time isn’t the sole contributor.
I also wonder how much of a difference a new defence partner has to do with it. The prior two years, Giordano was partnered with Dougie Hamilton on one of the NHL’s top pairings. Because both players were high end offensive players, we saw points from that pairing spread out a little more evenly. With TJ Brodie this year, though, Giordano carries a little more of the offensive load and I think that’s a slight contributing factor, too.
USAGE AND COMPETITION
Over the last half-decade, Giordano has played some of the league’s most difficult minutes and nothing has changed this season. Along with Brodie, Giordano is still seeing the team’s toughest matchups and being asked to shut down the opposition’s top players each and every night. To be producing at a high level while taking on those minutes is notable.
Of the league’s top five scoring blueliners, you can make a strong argument Giordano’s value outside of just offence is the highest of the bunch. Comparing his underlying numbers to the four defencemen ahead of him on the scoring chart helps flesh that out.
While Chabot and Rielly play top pairing roles with Ottawa and Toronto, respectively, neither of them move the needle like Giordano does. Carlson and Burns, on the other hand, see far more offensively-inclined minutes and aren’t frequently used in shutdown situations with the Capitals and Sharks.
I don’t think it’s overly controversial to suggest that, of the above bunch, most coaches would choose Giordano first in the final minutes of a game whilst protecting a lead. Those same coaches would also feel pretty darn confident in having him on the ice late trailing by a goal. Sure, that’s a less analytical and more simplistic way of illustrating a point, but it’s probably the most effective one I’ve got.
The Norris Trophy’s true definition is fairly clear. It’s given to the top “defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”. Right now, you can’t tell me Giordano isn’t one of the top three guys worthy of that criteria. Yes, we’re only two months into the season so lots can happen, but if he keeps playing the way he has, he deserves to be a big part of the conversation come spring.
Now, whether or not he’d have a fair shot at the end of the season is beyond me. Norris voting history in recent years is all over the place, which makes handicapping finalists quite difficult. Based on the true criteria of the award, though, and assuming Giordano continues playing at an elite level, the guy absolutely deserves a great deal of consideration.
Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned he’s doing all this at the age of 35, which is one of the biggest outliers I can ever remember. His age doesn’t matter for award purposes, but for Giordano to be playing the best hockey of his career, and at an incredibly high level, in his post-30 years is truly incredible.