Mark Giordano (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Calgary's captain may be on a rebuilding squad, but that doesn't mean the Flames are going to lie down this year. The team is off to a decent start and an infusion of youth has the veterans in a good place.
The Calgary Flames have a funny way of rebuilding. First off, they've been a tough team to play against for the past calendar year. And unlike a certain provincial rival, they're far from sad – in fact, they've gotten out of the gate pretty strong this season.
In nearly every sense of the word, defenseman Mark Giordano is leading the way. Not only is the veteran captain of the Flames, but he also happens to top the team charts in ice time (nearly 25 minutes per game) and offense, where he sits in a three-way tie with defense partner T.J. Brodie and center Joe Colborne at five points apiece through five games. This summer was big for the 31-year-old, who switched up his training emphasis.
“As you get older, you want to keep your speed," Giordano said. "It’s always been about strength and getting bigger, but now it’s about keeping that quickness because the young guys are coming up and they’re getting faster and faster.”
And the Flames have their fair share of great youngsters. Even with top 2014 pick Sam Bennett on the shelf, Calgary boasts Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, plus the slightly more experienced Mikael Backlund. Those players benefit from vets such as Giordano, Jiri Hudler and Curtis Glencross, but it's a two-way street, according to the captain.
“We have a great future for sure," Giordano said. "You know how it is; when you’re a young guy there’s always a lot of energy around and that rubs off on us older guys.”
The hiring of Bob Hartley as coach has also been a source of stability for the team. Giordano noted that Hartley's systems are very kind to defensemen and that the consistency of practices means the players always know they have an hour of hard work ahead of them. While the Flames could hypothetically shoot for a high draft pick this summer, it doesn't seem like they're willing to settle for another year in the basement.
“Last year was a step in the right direction," Giordano said. "We were a hard team to play against, we got our full year under our coaches and with our system we’re only going to get better. We played in a lot of one-goal games last year and we have to start cashing in on those, give ourselves a chance to fight for a playoff spot.”
Whether that comes to fruition or not in a cutthroat Pacific Division remains to be seen. After all, the Flames were outshot 50-18 by the Blackhawks on Wednesday night but escaped with a 2-1 overtime victory thanks to the heroics of goalie Jonas Hiller. By and large, they're getting hammered in the possession department, but again: this is a team being built for the long-term, not the here and now.
Hiller is a No. 1 NHL goaltender and Monahan and Backlund have the chance to be a devastating 1-2 punch at center in the near future. Giordano is the top dog on defense and it's hard to imagine how close he came to professional oblivion just seven years ago.
As a young blueliner with the Flames, Giordano wasn't finding his place in the lineup and decamped for Russia, playing the 2007-08 season with Moscow Dynamo. It was there that he found his confidence.
“I had a great experience," he said. "I played a ton of minutes on bigger ice and it helped my overall game for sure. Then I got an opportunity to come back, so it worked out really well.”
Upon his return to the NHL, Giordano steadily climbed the ranks and by 2010-11, only Jay Bouwmeester was logging more ice time. Since J-Bo left for St. Louis, 'Gio' has been the unquestioned No. 1 in town. The smooth-skating all-around blueliner has one more year on his contract after this season and it will be interesting to see what he does in the interim. But if Giordano is excited about the future in Calgary, we'll likely see him donning a Flames jersey for quite a long time after that.