By The Old Prof
Years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mark Giordano was an undrafted invitee to the Calgary Flames camp. There, in Giordano’s own words, he absorbed everything. The result was that he had both the talent and the drive to become the Norris Trophy winner.
Now, as Giordano’s NHL career winds to a close, he’s played over 1,000 NHL games. He’s in his 17th NHL season. Of his 1034 games played, only 85 of them were not with the Calgary Flames.
Tonight will be his 31st regular-season start for the Maple Leafs when he suits up against the Philadelphia Flyers. During those 30 games, he’s done nothing but show his worth to the team.
To My Mind, Giordano Is the Team’s Consistently Best Player
At the time of his signing with the team during the offseason, a number of Maple Leafs’ fans were critical of Giordano’s signing. Forget that it was at a team-friendly two-year $1.6 million, they thought Giordano was too old.
In one of my posts for The Hockey Writers, a reader called Giordano a pylon for his lack of speed and for the fact that other players would simply drive around him. While the metaphor is witty, it’s also incorrect. Sure, Giordano is racing against Father Time, but that doesn’t mean he’s past his ability to contribute.
In fact, my contention is that Giordano is currently either the best player on the Maple Leafs’ roster at this point in the season; or, he’s one of them. He seldom gets scored on five-on-five, and he’s the only Maple Leafs’ regular who is plus in the plus/minus with a plus-six.
The only other Maple Leafs who are to the positive in plus/minus statistics are Victor Mete, Denis Malgin, Kyle Clifford, Wayne Simmonds, and Nick Robertson. What does that say?
Four Reasons Why Giordano Is So Valuable to the Maple Leafs
Reason One: He’s a Team Player, Who’ll Take “Some” for the Team
The first thing that Giordano did was to WANT to be with the Maple Leafs. He made that apparent when he signed a team-friendly contract during the offseason. Used to earning a lot more money, it didn’t take Giordano much time to re-sign with the team he had played with 20 games at the end of the 2021-22 season.
That signing sends a message to others both on his team and around the NHL that the Maple Leafs are a team that would be a contender. Also, internally, if he can “take one” (or many if you are counting dollars) for the team, they can also.
Reason Two: He Came Into the Season Physically Prepared
During the offseason, Giordano made full use of the resources within the Maple Leafs’ training facility. After Giordano signed with the Maple Leafs last spring, he first took the opportunity to (re)settle into his new home in the Toronto area. He also worked out and spent every day in Etobicoke using the team’s practice facility.
In his own words, “I’ve really learned a lot being here.” Giordano also noted that he was “learning how to use my strength better.”
Coach Keefe admitted as much, saying “I look at a guy like Giordano who had, between skills coaches, strength coaches, nutritionists and culinary staff, it’s the whole operation that can help a player optimize themselves during the offseason.”
The point is that the now 39-year-old did everything he could to ensure he would still be an effective defenseman when this season began. That shows commitment.
Reason Three: He’s a Great Addition to the Power Play
As the training camp and the regular season rolled around, the Maple Leafs decided to utilize Giordano to quarterback the team’s second power-play unit. Although coach Keefe noted that fans might see a number of different people on the second unit, he also shared “in Gio’s case, he’s obviously got a lot of experience there and we really like what he brought to that unit when he came in last season.”
Last season, when Giordano came to the Maple Leafs (the date was March 20) from the Seattle Kraken, he assumed the second power-play duties after Sandin injured his knee against the Nashville Predators the day earlier.
That worked out well for the team because Giodano was “more willing to shoot the puck from the top and does a good job there of doing that.” Keefe said.
Keefe added that it was especially helpful for the second power-play unit because, when that unit was on the ice “they don’t have a lot of time. So having a little more of a shot mentality was important.”
Reason Four: He’s a Great Mentor to the Maple Leafs’ Young Defensemen
From my perspective, coach Keefe was wise not to pair Giordano with TJ Brodie even though they had been so successful playing together in Calgary. Obviously, that pairing would have worked well, as it did then. They would have been great.
Instead, coach Keefe saw Giordano adding value to the defence by making anyone he played with better. And, with the Maple Leafs’ young and emerging defence (players like Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, and newcomer Filip Kral), Giordano could have an impact on this Maple Leafs’ team for years to come.
As noted, everyone who plays with him is better for it. Then, why not allow him to mentor and teach the young blue-liners how to become solid defensemen? Playing with him helps enable both their success and build their confidence.
When Giordano and Justin Holl played together last postseason, Holl played better than he’d played all season. Now that Liljegren will be eligible to return on the weekend against the Boston Bruins, I would guess that Giordano would partner with him.
But that remains to be seen.
The Road Ahead This Season for Giordano?
Mark Giordano’s in a good place right after having been traded to the Maple Leafs at the trade deadline.
First, he gets to play in Toronto – his hometown.
Second, although the team isn’t playing up to its capabilities right now, if a player wants to win and his career is winding down, moving to the Maple Leafs gives him that chance.
Third, he’s played well with the Maple Leafs and, now that he’s back he’s part of the team for the next two seasons.
All in all, it’s a pretty good gig. Now the team just has to start winning a few games.