The utter incredibleness of Mark Giordano the hockey player continues to be unveiled during a season like no other for the Calgary Flames defenceman.
His absence at the All-Star Game this weekend is of no consequence — especially when you consider he’s the PHWA’s top pick for this year’s Norris Trophy at the break.
Recently becoming the fifth member of the Flames to crack the 50-point mark this year (no other team has more than three, and 14 of them have none), the captain will easily surpass his career high of 56 from 2015-16, and is on pace to eclipse the point-per-game averages of 0.73 and 0.79 he posted in his previous pair of injury-shortened seasons.
Giordano’s got more goals while shorthanded (3) than on the man advantage (2), and a nice balance of all three including six at even strength — where 58% of his 52 points have come so far.
All this as a 35-year-old who is supposed to — according to the laws of nature — be slowing down, losing reaction time and feeling the wear-and-tear of more than 800 games in the NHL. He’s not supposed to be enjoying a career season of this magnitude on a hellacious pace of 1.06 points per game. Tied with the San Jose Sharks’ Brent Burns for more than any other blueliner in the league thus far, and better than all but 31 of the NHL’s top forwards.
But of all the ways the age-defying Giordano has made an impact on the Flames and their extremely impressive season, his on-ice statistics are the most measurable, but not necessarily the most essential to a team that finally seems to have the kind of chemistry that can keep them playing deep into the spring.
If there’s no quit in the Flames, it’s because there’s never been any quit from the captain. The guy who wasn’t drafted into the OHL, wasn’t drafted into the NHL, and had to work harder than most to get to where he is today — earning his keep in the AHL, keeping his NHL dream alive by detouring through Russia and the KHL, and improving every detail every season since as a regular with the Flames.
If there’s a resilience and confidence that keeps the Flames from going on extended losing skids, it’s because the team shares Giordano’s consistency and cool-headedness, and the unwavering knowledge they can and will rebound quickly. The team has lost three straight games just twice this season, and both streaks involved one of those decisions going to a shootout.
Teams draw a lot of their collective personality from the leadership group, especially their coach and captain, and this year’s version has proven to be the perfect blend of focus, fun, and family.
When it comes to the latter, Giordano has been the group’s dressing room father figure for years — and only in part because of his literal status as a team elder. The only notables to have more candles on their birthday cakes in the six years since Giordano become captain include Mike Smith, Jaromir Jagr, Deryk Engelland, Dennis Wideman, Curtis Glencross, Brian McGrattan, Michael Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak.
Most of them were just passing through. Giordano has been a constant. His maturity, positivity and quiet but steady leadership has always belied his age. His character has never come into question — even when the group at large was accused of lacking enough of it as recently as last season.
Proud and protective as they come, Giordano wasn’t about to let last year’s crumbling down the stretch become a downward spiral for the Flames this year.
GM Brad Treliving told the Toronto Sun’s Michael Traikos this week that the team’s leadership group took it upon themselves to correct last year’s negative image.
“They were pissed,” Treliving said. “They were pissed off with how it ended, they were pissed off with their season. There was lots of stuff written about the character of the group — and we made some changes — but I can tell you that the core group has been around me for a while. That’s something that I never, ever questioned. They believed in each other and thought that we had a great team here and wanted to go out and prove that. They were really driven to have success.”
None more than Giordano, who knows his window to win a Stanley Cup — or even just have a meaningful run in the playoffs — is wide open but likely won’t remain that way for more the length of his current contract (which runs through 2022).
He hasn’t had much luck with that so far. He got a taste of the postseason as an up-and-comer in 2007 but the Flames lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round that year. The next season, he bolted to Russia over a contract dispute with GM Darryl Sutter, and missed the team’s first-round exit against the San Jose Sharks. Injuries kept Giordano out of both the 2009 first-round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, and the deflating second-round defeat at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks in 2015 after a thrilling first-round victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
He’s not the loudest presence in the locker room. His style is more by example, although every player will tell you they’re constantly being pushed to be better by their captain, much in the way past teams were prodded by the previous one, Jarome Iginla. A subtle jab with a deeper meaning is all it takes when those most respected have something to say.
And the outrageous numbers Giordano is putting up this year aren’t necessary for his comments to carry weight on this team.
“He’s our leader. He’s the conscience and moral calibrator of our team,” Treliving recently told the Athletic’s Scott Cruickshank. “He pushes others to be better. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but the effort level that he plays at, it raises others to compete the same way and all the things that go with it that are effort-related.”
Giordano is engrained in this team’s DNA. And that’s an incredible thing more and more people are starting to understand and appreciate.