CALGARY — A couple weeks ago his coach hid his skates in a desperate attempt to keep him from practicing.
What also appears to be hidden from the rest of the league is the fact Mark Giordano may just be the NHL’s best blue liner this season.
Yes, it’s early to be talking Norris Trophy candidates, as the Toronto media is doing with Morgan Rielly and the Nashville media is doing with almost every defenceman they employ.
Their cases are strong.
But 28 games into the season, none have had a bigger impact than the Calgary Flames’ 35-year-old captain.
Fifth amongst defensive scoring leaders (27 points in 28 games), sixth in plus-minus (plus-14) ninth in shots (78) and 18th in ice time (24:30), he certainly has the stats to be in a Norris conversation he dominated four years ago, before a biceps tear ended his season.
Word amongst players around the league is spreading about Giordano finally being recognized as one of the game’s most complete.
“I think it’s starting,” said Montreal Canadiens buzzsaw Brendan Gallagher of the Norris chatter for No. 5. “He’s one of the best defencemen in the league for sure. Obviously Paul Byron used to play there and I’m good friends with Lance Bouma who used to play here and talking to guys like that, they say he’s a little bit underrated, but I think generally people understand he’s a pretty good player.
“He brings it every single night. He does a lot for their team up and down the ice. He’s someone you’ve got to be aware of.”
Travis Hamonic was a believer long before he left Long Island to be a Flame.
“I think he’s been one of the best in the league for years, and I’ve been saying that for years — when I was in New York he was someone I watched intensely,” said Hamonic. “When I got traded here you see first-hand how good he is at both ends. He probably works his bag off harder than anybody else. I don’t know if there’s a better compliment you can give a guy than he sets the standard for the rest of the team.
“He’s as good off the ice as he is on it, which is saying something because he’s a hell of a player.
Hamonic insists Giordano “has probably got the toughest minutes in the league.”
His boss agrees.
“He plays against the other teams’ top line, he plays on the power play and kills penalties, he produces on offence and plays more than 24 minutes a night — how could he not be a Norris candidate?” shrugged GM Brad Treliving, who has Giordano inked for another three years at a team-high $6.75 million annually. (Yes, he makes as much as Johnny Gaudreau).
“I know I’m biased but that’s a thin list of players who can do all that. To me, Gio doesn’t get nearly enough credit — he helps stabilize guys.”
Case in point: a rocky start to Dougie Hamilton’s time in Calgary was remedied by putting him alongside Giordano. Hamilton responded with back-to-back career years offensively. Now that Hamilton is in Carolina he’s far from posting the offensive numbers he had with Giordano.
During those two seasons, T.J. Brodie’s numbers and confidence dropped, as did his effectiveness — things that have all been remedied this year since he returned to the top pairing with the undrafted Toronto native, Giordano.
Brodie, who has been a defensive adventure at times, now leads the league at plus-19, and is a big part of the team’s seventh-place standing overall. Tough as nails to play against, he’s also the first man to join the rush, creating odd-man opportunities that make the Flames one of the highest-scoring teams in the league.
Giordano finished sixth in Norris voting in his injury-shortened 2014-15 season, 13th the year after that, eighth two years ago and was 16th (behind Hamilton) last year.
“The best players in the league know all about him,” said first-year Flames coach Bill Peters, who openly admitted hiding Giordano’s skates was the only way to keep the fitness fanatic off the ice for a day. (Giordano jumped on a bike instead).
“It doesn’t surprise me (how good he is) at all, to be honest with you. He’s an unbelievable leader. I’ve had a good pro like him in Nick Lidstrom. Lidstrom looked after himself very similar to Gio.”
As in, seven-time Norris Trophy-winning Lidstrom.
Despite his advanced age, Giordano continues to be near the top of his team’s fitness-testing charts, not to mention their hearts.
His three assists in Tuesday’s 9-6 win in Columbus puts him at a point-a-game clip that would see him eclipse his season-high 56 points he had three years back, when he scored 21 times.
This year he’s shooting more than ever (2.78 shots a game), which has added another layer to his depth.
“I’m always trying to get pucks to the net — I don’t think I’ve changed my mindset that much, but for some reason it feels like I have had more shots this year,” said Giordano, who spearheads the first power-play unit.
“I’m just getting more looks and o-zone time.”
Rewarded with the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award a few summers back for his community work, he’s also an inspiration his fans and teammates look up to.
“That’s kind of the player I want to be — play in all situations and be a 200-foot player,” said rookie defenceman Juuso Valimaki, the Flames’ top draft pick in 2017. “The biggest thing is how crazy it is to watch him play 25 minutes every night and he doesn’t even look tired. The thing that amazes me the most is he doesn’t make a mistake. He does everything right.
“He always gets up in the rush and is always the first one back and always plays against the best players on the other team and shuts them down.
“Great person, great player.”
Great choice for the Norris… so far.