Mark Giordano isn’t just having what will likely shape up as the best season of his career to date – he’s also having arguably the best season of any defenceman in the NHL. A player who was already vying for the Norris before a bicep tear shortened his 2014-15, one would have to think – knocking on wood that a similar fate doesn’t befall him – this is the year Giordano finally gets recognized on the main stage.
The James Norris Memorial Trophy is given to the defenceman who “demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position.” It’s named after Norris, who owned the Detroit Red Wings from 1932 until his death in 1952.
The trophy is awarded via a vote by the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the end of the regular season.
- 2017-18: Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay)
- 2016-17: Brent Burns (San Jose)
- 2015-16: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles)
Last year’s voting leaders
(Voting points awarded on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis.)
Victor Hedman (TBL)
Drew Doughty (LAK)
PK Subban (NSH)
Seth Jones (CBJ)
John Carlson (WSH)
The Norris is something of a reputation award. Being a high-scoring defenceman tends to get one noticed, but that isn’t necessarily an indication of who’s going to win.
Hedman last season, though, was top five in the NHL in ice time per game while playing for one of the top teams in the league. Throw in his scoring numbers – the most out of those in the top five in ice time, and the most among major minute-eaters among the very best teams – and he was definitely a worthy pick, demonstrating an ability to play at the position’s highest level throughout the season – exactly who the award is meant for.
Handicapping Giordano’s candidacy
This honestly shouldn’t even be a contest.
Sports can’t resist a good narrative, and I’m not sure there’s a better one out there than Giordano’s. We’re talking about someone who was undrafted in the OHL, undrafted in the NHL, and played a season in Russia because he believed in himself more than his team did, who has gone on to be one of the top defencemen in the game. He didn’t fully break out until he was 30. Now, at age 35, he’s proving himself the best of the best – and has a legitimate chance at having the highest-scoring season by any defenceman 35 years old or over ever. (Ray Bourque scored 82 points in 82 games as a 35-year-old during the 1995-96 season; Giordano is on pace for 85 points in 80 games this season.) If Giordano keeps this up, he should be the biggest story in the NHL, bar none. Nobody else can even compare, possibly literally.
But, of course, it isn’t just points. Giordano is averaging 24:45 a game in ice time, putting him in the top 15 league-wide. The Flames don’t need him to eat as many minutes as other teams do – when healthy, they have like, eight functional defencemen – but he’s still being counted on to play a full three minutes more than anyone else on the team, ahead of his defence partner, TJ Brodie (21:45). He also leads the Flames in shorthanded ice time by a fair bit, and is fourth in powerplay time. And let’s remember, this is the Flames: presently the second best team in the NHL, also by a pretty decent margin.
Then, there’s the underlying stats. Assuming that Giordano’s main competition for the award will be Morgan Rielly and Brent Burns, we can understand why they’re in the running, but also acknowledge that Giordano is just plain posting better numbers:
Giordano’s corsi is just a little lower than Burns’, but his zone starts are also significantly worse. Like, hilariously so. They’re currently scoring at about the same rate, but Burns is being put in a position to score. Giordano is being put in a position to do everything for his team – which is kind of exactly what the award is meant for.
You can make a solid argument for several Flames for several different awards, but you could make just as solid an argument for some of their competition as well. Assuming the season carries on as it has been, though, then the exception is the Norris. You can make an argument for Giordano – but it’s flat out impossible to make an argument for anybody other than him.
This is it. This is the individual award. Giordano has absolutely everything working in his favour to win it this year, and not a single thing against him. He’s the captain of one of the top teams in the NHL, playing the most minutes for them, in all situations, from a disadvantaged standing point, and has a realistic shot at having the best season by a defenceman 35 years old and over of all time – all while coming from truly humble beginnings in the high-level hockey-playing world.
Giordano is presently the best defenceman in the world, so he should get the hardware to match.