There’s a pretty good chance that Mark Giordano will win the James Norris Memorial Trophy this season, making him the National Hockey League’s best defenseman for the 2018-19 campaign. Given that, it probably goes without saying that he had a good season. But considering his age, it’s really impressive just how well his season went.
2018-19 season summary
Most NHLers don’t improve after age 30. Heck, most of them don’t stay as good as they were after age 30. But Giordano is some kind of freak of nature and, at age 35, he had his best season statistically in his 13-year NHL career.
|Games played||Goals||Assists||Points||TOI/GP||5v5 CF%||5v5 CF% rel||OZS%||PDO|
From opening puck drop until the end of the regular season, Giordano was one of the most consistent performers on the Flames. He missed four games during his season: two due to a suspension for a knee on knee hit on Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu, and two as a healthy scratch late in the season after the Flames clinched top spot in the Western Conference.
Giordano spent the entire season on the top defensive pairing, playing with either TJ Brodie or Rasmus Andersson. He had the lowest offensive zone start percentage of any defenseman on the team – only Derek Ryan was even close to him among forwards. He played primarily against the top players on the other team. Despite these handicaps, he had the best possession numbers on the team and was among the NHL’s best in that area. Again, he did this as a 35 year old.
The Flames captain was top three among regular defensemen across the board in shot generation rates – shots, shot attempts, scoring chances and high danger chances – with one or both of Travis Hamonic or Noah Hanifin in his ballpark. He was similarly top three in shot suppression across the board, usually mixed up with one of Brodie or Andersson. He led the team in power play ice time per game and was second in shorthanded time per game, but he was fourth in five-on-five time per game – the Hamonic and Hanifin pairing got more even strength time than Giordano and Brodie, presumably with an eye towards keeping the top pair fresh for power plays.
Giordano tied his career high for even strength goal-scoring and set career highs in even strength points, shots, shot attempts, scoring chances, high danger chances generated. He was a possession beast, a strong defensive player, and managed to score a ton in key situations.
Again, he did this as the Flames’ oldest skater. According to Hockey Reference, just 63 skaters (including Giordano) have amassed 74+ points at his age (or older) in NHL history and just three defensemen. This was a unicorn of a season for Giordano.
Compared to last season
Giordano came two points shy of doubling his production from 2017-18 – the team was fighting it that much offensively last season and was feeling it that much this season. His possession stats were pretty similar this season compared to last, except his offensive and defensive rates were both down a little bit – his game was a little bit less high event at both ends of the ice, but it led to more goals for the Flames in general.
As noted in the prior section, Giordano was used a little bit less at even strength than in 2017-18 and the aim seemed to be keeping him fresh for power plays. He was used a little bit less on the penalty kill on average than in the prior season, but that’s also a product of the Flames giving their opponents fewer power plays.
What about next season?
It’s completely natural to see Giordano have a career year at age 35 and get a bit anxious worrying about if he’ll crash back to earth next season.
|Age 35||Age 36|
|Pierre Pilotte||52 points (1966-67)||37 points (1967-68)|
|Brad Park||58 points (1983-84)||43 points (1984-85)|
|Larry Robinson||50 points (1986-87)||40 points (1987-88)|
|Ray Bourque||82 points (1995-96)||50 points (1996-97)|
|Al MacInnis||62 points (1998-99)||39 points (1999-00)|
|Phil Housley||55 points (1999-00)||34 points (2000-01)|
|Brian Leetch||51 points (2003-04)||n/a (lockout)|
|Sergei Zubov||71 points (2005-06)||54 points (2006-07)|
|Nicklas Lidstrom||80 points (2005-06)||62 points (2006-07)|
|Brian Rafalski||59 points (2008-09)||42 points (2009-10)|
|Scott Niedermayer||59 points (2008-09)||48 points (2009-10)|
|Chris Pronger||55 points (2009-10)||25 points (2010-11)|
|Sergei Gonchar||50 points (2009-10)||27 points (2010-11)|
13 blueliners have had 50+ points in their 35-year-old season. Aside from Leetch, who didn’t get a chance to follow up due to a lockout, every single one had a points decline in their 36-year-old season. It seems inevitable that Giordano will, eventually, decline, but it’s incredibly difficult to project when that decline will happen and how pronounced it will be. (We’ll dig into this in more detail later this off-season, particularly comparing Giordano to other 35+ defenders in the Pretty Good Data Era.)
If Giordano’s underlyings decline gradually, he’ll still be one of the more useful defensemen on the Flames roster for at least another season or two.