TORONTO – During those heady days after the trade deadline, when the Toronto Maple Leafs’ defence corps was in the throes of an instant boost from its newest and oldest recruit, coach Sheldon Keefe considered the best aspect of Mark Giordano’s game.
“He puts out fires,” Keefe concluded of the wily, steady veteran and seamless fit.
Well, another long, handwringing, cap-crunching summer in Leafland hadn’t yet reached a week old, and there was Giordano wielding a fire extinguisher, hosing down a balance sheet that has glowing embers everywhere you look.
By taking a severe hometown discount Sunday and signing a two-year, $1.6-million extension, Giordano left general manager Kyle Dubas “thrilled.”
And the fan base should be equally ecstatic at Giordano’s we-before-me approach, which has granted Dubas coveted wiggle room to hire a goaltender and award younger players (RFAs Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren and Pierre Engvall) with their deserved raises.
“Everything he does is done to help the team win, and that includes a tremendous sacrifice in this contract negotiation,” Dubas said.
The GM and the onetime Norris Trophy winner had agreed Saturday on a slightly higher AAV, near $1 million, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, when the impending UFA voluntarily offered to shave a little more off his salary to free up spending elsewhere.
Think about this.
Giordano raked $6.75 million this past season from Seattle and, down the stretch, Toronto.
His new $800,000 salary, a shade above the veteran minimum, signals an 88 per cent pay cut. True, it’s for his age-39 and age-40 seasons, but Giordano is still performing at a top-four level, and leaders of his ilk never fail to cash in on the open market.
“I’m definitely blessed to have had the career I’ve had so far and be in a position financially where I’m in a good spot. I wasn’t worried about hard negotiating or anything like that,” said Giordano, who’s earned roughly $62 million over his 1,024-game career.
“I want to be here. I love the team. And I wanted to do what I can do to help this team move forward and win. I’ll leave it at that.”
Not unlike Jason “I’d Take Less If I Could” Spezza before him, Giordano has reached that stage in his career where the only thing that matters is chasing a Stanley Cup.
His recommitment to Toronto is an endorsement of the roster Dubas has built and a bet that the elite top-end talent of John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner is matched by a work ethic and competitiveness that will eventually lead to a breakthrough.
“The way they battled and competed is something special to watch from your top players, and I definitely think those guys can push this team over that line of winning or losing,” Giordano said.
“I believe in this team. I believe this team is a contender.
“It was a perfect fit.”
Giordano’s belief has only grown in Round 2 as he has watched the Tampa Bay Lightning dominate the Presidents’ Trophy–winning Florida Panthers. That same Lightning squad his Leafs could have eliminated in a next-goal-wins Game 6 overtime.
“Honestly, you think about every play,” said Giordano, who had a pair of assists in the series. “You go back in your mind and think about what you could have done different as a player and as a team.”
In addition to locking himself in a room he trusts is “not far away,” Giordano loves representing his home city. This is where his wife, Lauren, is from, too. A two-year pact ensures their son, Jack, and daughter, Reese, won’t have to uproot or change schools – or live time zones away from their extended family.
“As you get older, with children, it changes a lot in life. You really cherish those moments, especially my kids getting to see their grandparents,” Giordano said.
“It means a lot to the kids and obviously to my parents and my wife’s parents. So, it’s cool. And I want to take advantage of this. This is a great opportunity.”
Funny thing is, the Giordanos actually owned a home in Toronto up until two or three years ago.
“I sold it,” Giordano said. “I wish I hadn't now.”
With negotiations over, the house-hunting will soon commence. Followed by intense training and the commitment it takes to get the body in shape for another 82-game grind.
If Islanders Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene call it a career this summer, the only active NHL defenceman more senior than Giordano in 2022-23 will be the Oilers’ Duncan Keith.
“I feel like I can still contribute. I can still help the team push the needle forward,” Giordano said.
“The moment I don't think I'm contributing in a positive way, I'm not going to keep going. But I feel pretty good about my game, and I feel like I'm the guy who can also help young guys along the way.”
Liljegren took great strides skating to Giordano’s right, and the steady, smart veteran provided a calming presence on and off the ice. No. 55 improved the Leafs’ penalty kill and chipped in on the power play, setting up Matthews’ record-breaking 55th goal of the season.
Giordano doesn’t need a letter and couldn't care less about a payday. His focus is both singular and communal.
“Honestly, at this point in my career, it's all about being on a team that I believe can win and get to that next level,” he said.
“That’s all that it’s about for me.”