Mark Giordano: Fire and rain


Imagine traveling back in time just a few years to Las Vegas in June 2019. You walk into the Mandalay Bay Events Center and stroll to Mark Giordano, who proudly poses with his first Norris Trophy after becoming the only player of this century. with Nicklas Lidstrom to win it at 35 or older.

“Mark?”

“Yes.”

“I’m from 2021 and wanted to warn you that things will be… different.”

“How different? “

“Instead of being captain of the Calgary Flames, you’ll stand on an outdoor stage, wearing a new NHL jersey with a giant squid on it, after playing two seasons in empty arenas due to a pandemic that has killed millions of people around the world. ”

“…Oh.”

Really puts everything that has changed in two short years into perspective, eh? Especially for someone like Giordano, who spent 15 seasons in the NHL with one team, eight of them wearing the ‘C’, and was brought into the community with his wife, Lauren, as switchboard operators for their charity work. .

So is it any wonder that Giordano was so visibly and admittedly dazed on July 21, 2021, when the Seattle Kraken pitched him as one of their picks in the expansion draft? He was a symbol of continuity in Calgary, so the idea that he struggled to digest his new surroundings made sense. He only learned that he would be chosen 24 hours in advance. He rushed to find a quick COVID-19 test, going from drugstore to drugstore in his hometown of Toronto, so he could cross the U.S. border in time for the live televised event. Nothing prepared Giordano for the surreality of becoming a Kraken – without even knowing for much of last season that he had a good chance of becoming a Kraken.

Three moments before 2020-21 sealed his fate: August 30, 2018, January 8, 2020, and October 9, 2020, the dates RFA Noah Hanifin, RFA Rasmus Andersson and UFA Chris Tanev signed long-term deals with the Flames. . Hanifin and Andersson were the young pillars of Calgary’s future, while veteran addition Tanev is Giordano’s six-year-old junior and was the Flames’ top defenseman in 2020-21.

Since the Flames were forced to protect seven forwards, general manager Brad Treliving could only protect three defenders under the league’s draft rules. Giordano, 37 at the time and entering the final season of his contract in 2021-2022, knew he was the strange man to come out. However, he still felt suspense, as he was unsure if Calgary would save him by making a deal with Kraken general manager Ron Francis.

After 15 seasons in Calgary, Giordano arrives in Seattle as the Kraken’s oldest player and the team’s de facto captain. As the expansion project drew closer, the price Francis asked to spare Giordano proved too prohibitive. The Flames’ hold on their captain weakens.

To their credit, they kept Giordano informed. “’Tree’ was awesome,” said Giordano. “Until, especially the last three, four weeks before the draft, we talked to each other pretty much every day. He explained to me that he was trying to come up with some sort of deal to try and keep me maybe with the Flames, but at the end of the day they couldn’t come to an agreement.

And then you look the other way. You have a team in Seattle that really wants you. (The extension draft was) a weird few days, I’m not going to lie, when it happened. But when I get it, you realize there’s this whole new team and this new organization, a lot of new faces that really want you to be a part of it, and that’s pretty cool. Can’t wait to do something different for the first time in a long time.

If you’re new to the facts of Giordano, you might think 2021-2022 will mark his first ‘fish out of water’ hockey adventure, but it won’t. Yes, it’s been a long time since he broke his routine, but he started his prohockey career as an underdog, competing under unusual and ever-changing circumstances.

He enjoyed a respectable major junior career as a puck defenseman with the OHL Owen Sound Attack, but never garnered enough attention to make or be part of Canada’s World Junior Team. selected in the NHL Draft. His dream faded away in 2004, when he returned to Toronto, enrolled at York University and intended to attend business school, but a Hail Mary opportunity changed everything.

The Flames invited him to their training camp, he impressed their brass enough to deserve a look in the AHL, and he launched his professional career. Giordano entered the NHL as a deep defenseman with the Flames in 2005-06, winning few minutes and responsibilities. He felt he needed to improve his game dramatically if he was to make a long term living in the sport, so he gave it a shot. He left for Russia to play for Dynamo Moscow in 2007-08, a season before the Russian Superleague officially transformed into KHL.

“I was young, it was scary at first,” he said. “You’re going to a different country where you don’t speak the same language as everyone else, so it was definitely nerve-racking to walk into that town and that locker room. But once the hockey started, the only one thing I realized is that the only place you feel most comfortable is on the ice. So it was great, I loved playing there, the team got me treated well and the organization treated me well.

He learned more about Moscow, the people and the culture as the season progressed. Thinking about it today, he feels like he grew up as a person on and off the ice there. Playing on larger areas of ice helped him perfect his skating, and recording significant ice time instilled in him a workaholic mentality.

By the time Giordano returned to North America he was 25 and a different player. He remained in the NHL in 2008-09 and, in 2010-11, began a decade as one of the NHL’s best all-situation defensemen.

Interestingly, Giordano reached his peak as a number 1 defender after turning 30. In six seasons, from his 30-year season to his Norris year in 2018-19, he was fourth among defensemen in goals, seventh in points, 10th in blocked shots and 12th in average ice time. . He attributes his unusually late peak to the change in the way he has prepared his body.

“I learned to train to be functionally strong instead of just being strong, just having power,” he said. “I’ve learned to (train) in positions that I’m going to use on the ice and have strength, basically, in those positions rather than having your normal bench press, squat, or lift power. I also got a little lighter as I got older. You always want to be quick, especially with the way the game is played. I probably weigh a few pounds less than in my twenties.

From reaching the NHL without being drafted to play in Russia until reaching a peak in his 30s, Giordano’s career trajectory has therefore been unconventional, and that will prepare him to be plunged into such an unconventional situation for 2021. -2022.

It’s heartwarming, of course, that everyone else in the Kraken undergoes the same jarring transplant, from others selected like Defender Vince Dunn as Scraps, but they were simultaneously adjusting to a new city, seeking out places to live, learning schools for their children and so on.

The same goes for the Kraken players, and Giordano, a father of two, believes the organization has been first class, from helping families acclimatize to helping players in their nutrition programs to move them into a new $ 80 million training facility. The feeling goes both ways, of course. The Kraken consider Giordano to be a first class player. That’s why they wanted him so badly.

“That’s all he stands for, not just as a player but as a person,” said Francis. “You read stories about what he did in the Calgary community, and not just him, but his wife and family. These are the kind of people you want to start your franchise with and who you have in your closet. You only get one chance to establish your story and your lore and build it right, and getting a guy of his stature is definitely a big part of that.

Because of this stature, Giordano’s presence is pretty much irreplaceable in the Calgary room. His former teammates were still in shock when he left when the camps opened. “You can go to him for anything,” said Flames left winger Andrew Mangiapane. “Whether it was your contract or whether you were looking to buy a house or something, he was always there, ready to listen. He’s a great guy and a great captain so I only wish the best for him. Sounds like he had to leave, but that’s the deal, and the guys are going to have to step up and play a bigger role in our team.

Perhaps no Flame will feel the absence more than center Sean Monahan, who has become an extremely close friend of Giordano during their eight seasons as teammates.

“It will always be a shock once I get to camp and he’s not there,” said Monahan. “I’ve been sitting in the same booth across from him for almost nine years now, and it’s… it’s different. I train with him every day in the summer too. It’s gonna be weird when he’s not around. Giordano, who will be 38 in early October, transfers his role as village chief to Seattle.

He’s one of four Kraken who even turned 30, and he’s almost seven years older than the second oldest Kraken, right winger Jordan Eberle. Hockey Twitter sewed a virtual “C” onto Giordano’s jersey as soon as it was picked, and he finally got it a year before his contract expired next summer.

By the way: what will happen next summer? Giordano will be 39 years old at the start of 2022-2023. He might love Seattle and want to keep playing there, or he might miss Calgary and want to come back, or he might feel the call of the Leafs from his hometown. If the Kraken aren’t contenders, they could trade Giordano by the 2022 deadline, although his contract includes a no-trade list of 12 teams. It is too early to predict his fate.

Which we can confidently predict: Giordano will play beyond this season. His game has slipped since 2018-19, but he is still well above average as a two-way defender. In 2020-21, at 5-5, he had the second lowest percentage of goals expected among the Flames D-men. Calgary outscored their opponents 43-34 and outscored their opponents 403-362 with Giordano on the ice 5-5. His impact on possession remains positive and he has no plans to retire anytime soon.

“Forty was my golden ratio which I want to achieve at least,” said Giordano. “So I think I have a few more years left. I see a few guys around, Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, doing great things after 40, so we’ll see. I will play as long as I feel good and help the team on the ice.

Right now he’s fitter than ever, settling in an oceanfront town far more comfortable than most players as a fish out of the water considering his eccentric career path. He’s hockey’s Benjamin Button, a player whose career has gone almost backwards, his best moments coming from what should have been his twilight. So don’t be surprised if we see something memorable from Giordano as a founding member of the Kraken.


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