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Norris or not, Flames' Mark Giordano on pace for historic campaign

The mid-season favorite to win the Norris Trophy was the Calgary captain, but even if Giordano comes up short, his production level at an advanced age is reaching into historic territory and he's showing no signs of slowing down.

Some would argue that in a fair and just world, Mark Giordano would have a Norris Trophy on display somewhere in his home by now. The reality, however, is that the Calgary Flames captain, who has been among the most rock-solid defenders anywhere in the league and a true top defenseman for the past several seasons, doesn’t so much have a spot in the top-three to hang his hat on. Sure, he’s had a few top tens, even finishing as high as sixth-place in voting following the 2014-15 campaign, but the actual hardware has eluded him.

There’s a fair chance that will all change come season’s end, though.

Giordano’s brilliance throughout this campaign has been almost unrivalled. In his own end of the ice, on one of the most dominant puck possession teams in the league, Giordano has snuffed out opposition attempts with regularity, moved the puck up and out of the Flames’ zone with aplomb and done all the things that have made him one of the most underrated — if not the most underrated — defenseman in the league for the past several seasons. He has been a play-driving, minute-munching force, an all-situations defender the likes of which the league’s 30 other clubs would likely sell their souls to have among their ranks.

This is nothing new, of course. Giordano has long done this. He’s been this same defensive stalwart for years now without it truly helping his Norris candidacy all that much. But what stands to turn the trophy tide in his favor this season is his offensive output. Entering action Friday, Giordano ranks second among all defenders with 55 points. He’s tied for sixth with 11 goals. And if you need proof how much that matters, consider Giordano, who was only three points back of Brent Burns for the lead in blueline scoring come the all-star break, was voted the mid-season Norris frontrunner by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association, the same body which votes on the award come seasons’s end. That is a substantial sign that this season could come up Norris for Giordano.

In the ever-changing world of the NHL, though, there’s no guarantee the mid-season nod makes Giordano an end-of-season lock. A lot of factors can come into play before now and mid-April. Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly could get white hot and take over top spot in rearguard scoring. Kris Letang could continue his otherworldly play with the Pittsburgh Penguins and start to draw the attention of award voters. Some might even start to consider the play of Ottawa Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot as the best they’ve seen this season, and others yet might lean towards always-steady Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Victor Hedman or Columbus Blue Jackets standout Seth Jones. Minds change. It happens.

What could help persuade voters to flip their votes Giordano’s way and put another feather in the Flames defenseman’s cap is a history-making performance. And, well, would you look at that? Turns out that’s exactly what Giordano is on his way to accomplishing.

As it stands, Giordano’s offensive output has already earned his spot amongst some rare and noteworthy company. Though his 55-point total puts him eight off the blueline scoring lead — Burns’ 63 points are the top total — it represents one of the best seasons by a veteran defenseman in NHL history. In fact, among defensemen playing in their age 35 season or beyond, Giordano now belongs to a group that includes Hall of Famers Ray Bourque, Nicklas Lidstrom, Al MacInnis, Scott Niedermayer, Brad Park and Chris Pronger. That cohort of legendary defensemen, as well as four others, are the only blueliners in NHL history to register at least 55 points during their age 35 campaign or beyond. And the incredible thing is that Giordano, whose 55-point campaign is obviously tied for bottom spot among the list of 18 total 55-plus point seasons by a defenseman of such an advanced age, isn’t done climbing.

At his current rate of scoring, Giordano is set to surpass almost every single one of the best seasons by a defenseman his age or older in NHL history. His 55 points in 54 games put him on pace to end the campaign with 82 points in 80 contests by season’s end. And such a total would see Giordano leapfrog both of MacInnis’ best 35-plus campaigns, shoot past all five of Lidstrom’s five (!) high-scoring veteran seasons and eclipse all but one of Bourque’s brilliant advanced-age outputs. Oh, and the one season Giordano wouldn’t surpass is the one he would match. During the 1995-96 season, Bourque registered 82 points, which is the most of any 35-plus blueliner in NHL history.

Giordano’s path to the veteran blueliner point record wouldn’t see him challenge or snap up another mark along the way. Lidstrom’s 64 assists during the 2005-06 campaign are the most by any 35-plus blueliner, but Giordano is on pace to match that total if he maintains his current pace. And on pace for 18 goals this season — and as a former 20-goal scorer, don’t doubt his ability to surpass that — Giordano would rank fourth all-time in goals by a 35-or-older rearguard. The high-water mark, set by Mathieu Schneider in 2005-06, is 21 goals.

What makes Giordano’s season especially brilliant and such a rarity is that it’s not as though he’s scored like this in the past. Rather, he’s seemingly captured lightning in a bottle with one of the league’s highest scoring clubs at a time when most players his age are stepping foot onto the back nine of their careers. Instead, Giordano is two points shy of setting a new career-high point total, and he’s going to manage to set that new mark without so much as sacrificing one bit of his defensive game.

Chances are he’ll win the Norris. No defenseman in the league has earned it more through two-thirds of the campaign. But even if Giordano falls a few votes short, he can look back on this campaign as not just one of the best of his career, but one of the best a veteran defenseman has had in the entire history of the league.



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