We still have a month left of summer, but you wouldn’t know it standing face to face with Mark Giordano. He’s in great shape, and he has great posture. He’s alert, almost bouncing on his heels. He very much looks ready to play NHL games today.
He’s enjoyed the usual hockey player off-season, full of golf – more than he’d like, considering he was free to hit the links in April – and visiting family. But Giordano, 30, says all the activities designed to get his mind off the game are winding down now.
“At this point of the summer, now you’re getting those butterflies, because you know camp is coming back,” he said.
Back to that exemplary posture of his. He’s by no means cocky, but he has a quiet confidence about him. He doesn’t look like someone just one year into life as an NHL captain. That or it’s simply clear the Calgary Flames made the right choice.
He says his life hasn’t changed too much since the ‘C’ was stitched onto his jersey for the start of 2013-14, that he simply leads by example, and that he believes young players look up to that more than anything. After all, Giordano says, that’s what he always did in his early years in the NHL.
“Lead by example” has become a classic hockey cliché in this era of captain by committee, but Giordano sure seems to back up what he says. His first season as captain was the best of his career. His 14 goals and 47 points were career highs, and he hit those marks despite missing 18 games. He still ranked sixth and 11th among NHL blueliners in those two categories, higher when you exclude Brent Burns, who played forward last year but was listed among D-men. Pro-rate Giordano's totals over 82 games and he’d have 18 goals and 60 points. Only Erik Karlsson and Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith averaged more points per game. Giordano finished 10th in Norris voting (with one first-place vote), and would’ve been higher if advanced statistics carried more weight on the ballot. Giordano’s Corsi was the best in the NHL relative to who he played with and who he played against.
So it’s no wonder the man has an understated swagger now. That said, Giordano sees it differently.
“I’ve always had confidence,” he said. “It changes year to year. The situations change, where you play, how much you play, and all that stuff. And you can’t let numbers really affect the way you feel about your game. I felt good the past few years, actually. Some years pucks go in and your numbers look a bit better than the previous year. But as you get older, especially being a defenseman, it’s all about evolving your game and being patient in your own end, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
It’s clear Giordano has his own end figured out. But what about the company he keeps? The Flames allowed 2.90 goals per game in 2013-14. Only Edmonton surrendered more in the Western Conference. President Brian Burke and new GM Brad Treliving hope they’ve fixed the problem by signing goaltender Jonas Hiller and defenseman Deryk Engelland. Giordano has faith. He envisions a two-goalie system with Hiller and Karri Ramo, who improved late last season, and he notes that several teams have succeeded with that approach. He likes the size and snarl Engelland and winger Brandon Bollig bring to the table, and he was excited when Calgary signed Mason Raymond.
But what captain won’t speak highly of his team’s off-season additions? The truth is the Flames still have a long way to go. Engelland carries the cap hit of a top-six defenseman, but he was a regular healthy scratch in Pittsburgh. Hiller left Anaheim, but Anaheim let him go, too. These off-season additions weren’t earth-shattering, and the Flames know they’re just starting to turn the corner on their rebuild.
Still, with Giordano and young talents like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett leading the way, there’s success on the horizon in Calgary. So you can’t blame Giordano for daring to dream about a major climb in the standings, even this season.
“You always look at it no matter what,” he said. “I know we’re a team that’s in a bit of a rebuild. But we feel like we want to take steps in quick mode. There’s no beating around that our conference is tough, that our division is tough. We have to find a way to stay in games and hopefully get points out of games that last year we didn’t.”
For what it’s worth, when Giordano says he believes in his team, and himself, you believe him.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin