Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano has had a whirlwind career in the National Hockey League. After being signed as a minor-league depth player in the summer of 2004, Giordano worked his way through the ranks – becoming AHL Omaha’s most reliable defender and earning 49 games with the Flames. When he wasn’t offered a one-way NHL deal from the Flames, he headed to Russia for a year to play with Moscow Dynamo before returning to the Flames the season after.
Even prior to the departure of Jay Bouwmeester last season, Giordano was arguably Calgary’s most important defender. He blocks shots, plays in every situation and, as alternate captain, was an important voice on the ice, on the bench and in the locker room. Without Bouwmeester and now as the Flames captain, he’s easily the most important blueliner on the club.
And following an injury blocking a shot during the Flames’ five-game road trip, he’s out for six-to-eight weeks, according to the club. For many reasons, this is bad news for the Calgary Flames.
SCORING & FLOW OF PLAY
At the time of his injury, Giordano was the Flames leading defensive scorer and one of the blueline leaders in the NHL. Heck, his strong play prompted some to openly ponder if he’s worth Team Canada’s attention for an Olympic roster spot. When he went down with his ankle injury, Giordano had more than double the next-nearest blueliner (Dennis Wideman had 4 points, Giordano had 9) and nearly as much as the rest of the team’s blueliners combined. In terms of points-per-game, he had over a point-per-game, while Wideman had 0.5 in the same span.
Moreover, Giordano leads the entire team in most flow-of-play measures, including Corsi percentage and others. In other words, Giordano was one of the few Flames players who had significantly more pucks going towards the opposition net than his own. And all of this happened with Giordano and T.J. Brodie facing the top lines on all the other teams and excelling.
The biggest impact may be in terms of player deployment and line-up balance on the back-end. With a healthy blueline, Giordano is paired with Brodie, Wideman is paired with Kris Russell and Shane O’Brien plays with Chris Butler. The general tendency is a stay-at-home player with an offensive player, and it seems to have worked early on. The top pair is leaned on heavily in close games, while Wideman and Russell have had some success against the team’s other lines. O’Brien and Butler are generally shielded and play significantly less than the other four.
The most stark change with the Flames line-up without Giordano is that Wideman and Russell are being more heavily relied upon. Brodie’s been paired with Butler, which means Brodie has to bear a bit more of the defensive-zone burden – with Giordano, Brodie could pinch a bit more because he had a strong defensive player with him. Shane O’Brien is possibly getting slightly less ice time, as he was paired with Chris Breen until Breen suffered an abdominal injury and was replaced by Derek Smith.
The new pairings show off a bit of a strange balancing act by the Flames coaches. Prior to Giordano’s injury, the pairings were, in possession terms, the team’s #1 defender (Giordano) with #2 (Brodie), #3 (Russell) with #4 (Wideman) and #5 (Butler) with #6 (O’Brien). Now the team has #2 with #5, #3 and #4 and #6 with an AHL recall. The balance between the three pairings is a bit skewed, and has resulted in Russell and Wideman playing a lot of hockey.
So far the healthy Flames blueliners have been up to the challenge, particularly in their October 26 game with Washington. However, Giordano leaves a big, big hole in the line-up and it remains to be seen how long the line-up balancing act can continue before things start getting dicey. Based on the timeline provided by the Flames, Giordano is expected back in the line-up in mid-to-late December.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.