Mark Giordano’s name hasn’t been thrown around often in the Norris Trophy conversation, but it’s near impossible to ignore his contributions to the Flames’ blueline this season.
As we enter the final month of the NHL campaign, there’s little doubt that Tampa Bay Lightning rearguard Victor Hedman is the presumptive favorite to win the Norris Trophy. He’s been a blueline standout on the league’s best team, one of the top-scoring rearguards and an impact player in all situations. And that Hedman, after three top-10 nods in Norris voting, has yet to win the award gives him that he’s-due feeling, particularly after a third-place finish that came along with a few appearances on Hart Trophy ballots last season.
As we noted last week, though, Hedman’s status as the favorite doesn’t quite mean he’s running away with the award. Cases, and strong ones at that, can be made for the likes of the Nashville Predators’ P.K. Subban, Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg and Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty, while others such as the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Seth Jones, Washington Capitals’ John Carlson and Predators’ Roman Josi are also in the conversation. But if any rearguard has flown under the radar in the Norris discussion as we begin the last four weeks of the 2017-18 season, and if there’s any defenseman who should be getting much more attention, it’s Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.
From a purely new-school Norris Trophy perspective, it’s understandable why Giordano hasn’t been leading any award discussion. In the post-lockout NHL, the award for the top rearguard has generally gone to one of the top blueline point-getters. In fact, all but three of the 12 Norris winners since the 2005-06 season have finished top-three in scoring. The only defensemen not on that list are Nicklas Lidstrom (2006-07), Zdeno Chara (2008-09) and Drew Doughty (2015-16). Thus, with Giordano locked into a tie for 24th in scoring among defensemen, there’s a readymade argument as to why he doesn’t deserve the accolade. Add to it the fact his name doesn’t carry quite the cachet of a Lidstrom, Chara or Doughty and he’s fighting an uphill battle, whether fair or not.
But from an all-around perspective, with the idea being the Norris Trophy is an award for do-everything-and-do-it-well defensemen, the case Giordano has made for himself is as impressive as that of any other rearguard in the NHL. However, because Giordano’s Norris argument is weaker than others from an offensive standpoint, any case for the Flames defender as a true candidate begins with tangible and measurable defensive impact.
In today’s era, the best way to measure Giordano’s play against other Norris contenders is by digging into the underlying 5-on-5 statistics. And in a group that includes all the aforementioned defensemen, as well his blueline partner Dougie Hamilton and last year’s winner Brent Burns, Giordano’s numbers are impressive.
When it comes to both creating and limiting shots, attempts, scoring chances and high-danger chances, the Flames captain is at or near the top of the group of 10 defenders. For instance, he ranks first among the listed blueliners in Corsi for percentage, scoring chances for percentage and high-danger chance for percentage at 5-on-5, and no worse than third in any of the individual shots, attempts or chances categories at a per-60-minute measure. The only area he ranks below his counterparts is in goals for percentage — he ranks seventh overall with the eighth-best goals for and sixth-best goals against rate per 60 minutes— but that has as much to do with Calgary’s middling 5-on-5 save percentage as it does Giordano’s play given how limiting he’s been.
Some, mind you, will look at Giordano’s numbers and assert the favorable slant of offensive zone time might be benefitting his offensive and defensive numbers as much as his own play. The reality is, though, that while Giordano has the highest rate of offensive starts per 60 minutes among the listed defenders, he also has the second-highest rate of defensive starts. Among all defensemen to play at least 1,000 minutes, Giordano has started the 16th-most shifts in his own zone. He’s putting in the work at both ends of the ice. And for those who might attempt to make a quality-of-competition argument, Giordano’s level of opponent is right alongside Hamilton and Josi for the toughest, according to HockeyAbstract.
Granted, more than 5-on-5 play will be taken into account in Norris voting. In the point-based Norris reality, the arguments for Carlson, Klingberg, Hedman and Subban, for instance, are at least partially predicated upon their play with the man advantage as each has 20 or more points on the power play. Giordano has been nowhere near as prolific — he has one goal and 10 points with the man advantage — but his level of generation is commendable. Per 60 minutes on the power play, he ranks first in high-danger chance production, third in scoring chance generation and fourth in shot attempts for among the group of 10 defenders.
The Flames have really leaned on Giordano on the penalty kill, too, as he has seen the third-most shorthanded minutes of any defenseman in the league and averages upwards of three minutes per outing on the kill. When it comes to limiting high-danger opportunities, Giordano has excellent numbers with the Flames only allowing 23.9 per 60 minutes shorthanded, but the outlook is admittedly far less favorable in the shot, shot attempts and scoring chance categories. Among the 10 defensemen, he ranks seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively. He also ranks eighth in goals against per 60 minutes, but it should be noted that the two defensemen he has been better than in that category are Hedman and Carlson, two blueliners getting much more Norris love than Giordano.
Taking all situations into account, though, it’s difficult to look at what Giordano has accomplished this season and not be impressed. Sure, his offensive numbers aren’t quite up to snuff with the Klingbergs or Carlsons, his team hasn't been as successful as the squads Hedman and Subban skate with and he doesn’t have the name value of a Burns or Doughty, but he has been every bit the complete package and one who should be garnering some Norris consideration.
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