After a pre-season preview and a COVID cancellation, Mark Giordano finally makes his regular-season return to the rink that saw him carve out an incredible NHL career with the Calgary Flames.
His homecoming ended with his former club beating his new one. The Flames eked out a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken at the Saddledome on Saturday. But there may be some reflective satisfaction in seeing his former teammates thrive.
It might take a few days, though, with some rough stuff punctuating the night after Giordano hit Mikael Backlund at the buzzer.
The Flames extended their winning streak to nine games on goals from Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk and another sharp goaltending performance from Jacob Markstrom.
They look like a team ready to do something they weren’t able to do when Giordano was captain – make some serious noise in the playoffs.
Now the captain for the Kraken, Giordano was the leader in Calgary for half of his 15 years of service in the Flaming C.
His story of going from undrafted free agent to Norris Trophy winner has been told repeatedly – and it’s a good one – but fans will likely have to be happy with the ending.
At least from a Calgary Flames standpoint.
Calgary Flames faithful show their appreciation
His return to the Saddledome was a chance for closure. It’s a chance for the Flames faithful to say their goodbyes and show their appreciate for the hard work, determination, and authenticity he displayed along with his tremendous skill.
While talk a couple of months ago suggested the possibility of a reunion around the NHL trade deadline, a number of factors have made that all but impossible.
A huge deal for scoring winger Tyler Toffoli has tightened up the salary cap situation even more.
And by setting the market with that trade, the Flames are unlikely to part with a top pick and more for the services of the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent defenceman.
The price may be even higher than what they were unwilling to pay to avoid losing Giordano in the NHL expansion draft last summer. So it makes little sense to pay the ransom now.
Even more importantly, the Calgary Flames have shown this season they don’t need to fill the holes Giordano’s departure left behind.
That’s two-fold. One is leadership. Giordano was a leader by example on and off the ice. He was the glue that connected the young players to the veteran group, making the transition easier.
Flames leaders emerging without former captain
“Since I came, he was kind of that guy that meshed well with the older guys and the young guys,” said Calgary Flames winger Tkachuk.
He scored first and played a big role on the winner with his forecheck on his former captain in the third.
“I came in as an 18-year-old and he made me feel as at home as I could have felt. For that, I’ll forever thank him.”
Tkachuk has taken another step in his own leadership role this year with the Flames going without a captain. Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan and Chris Tanev wear the assistant patches, but collectively this group has more accountability than ever. From Milan Lucic to Jacob Markstrom, it seems every member if this year’s Flames has played a part in leading without a captain.
Hanifin started his career in Carolina as a 17-year-old. But he credited Giordano with having a huge impact on him. Even though he joined the Flames after three full seasons with the Hurricanes.
“Mark was the first defenceman that I was really able to look up to and learn from,” Hanifin said Saturday.
“He’s the example for every young defenceman coming into the league. For some of our young defencemen here, me, Shilly (Oliver Kylington), Razz (Andersson), he was a great role model for us on and off the ice. How you have to act and be as a player if you want to have an impact in this league.”
Defensive players enjoying career years for Flames
Those young defencemen are the other reason we won’t see a reunion with Giordano. Beyond the dinner he had with a bunch of former teammates on Friday night.
Hanifin, Andersson, Tanev and Kylington have formed a stellar top four and every single one of them are on pace for career years offensively. Roleplayers Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov can’t be left out as one of the better bottom-pairing tandems in the league.
NHL trade rumours had the Calgary Flames as a team in on the Ben Chairot talks but anything more than depth likely isn’t worth the cost. With Michael Stone waiting patiently for opportunities and some talent in the AHL as well.
In some ways, Giordano’s influence ultimately made him expendable. There was a lot of uncertainty and deliberation in leaving him exposed for Seattle to pounce on.
But the Flames gamble looks like it has paid off.