When Drew Doughty was “due” for the Norris a few years ago, it came largely from a media class eager to make up for what they felt was lost time.
He basically got a lifetime achievement award at 26 despite having a fairly pedestrian season by his standards, and despite the fact that Erik Karlsson should have won it in a walk.
The very next year, Brent Burns got a similar treatment, thanks largely to his goal total, while Karlsson was passed over again.
Another defenseman in the Pacific Division this year who knows a little something about being overlooked like this is Mark Giordano, who on Wednesday night scored his 60th point of the season. He is now just the fourth defenseman over the age of 35 to surpass the 60-point plateau in league history, joining Sergei Zubov, Nick Lidstrom, and Al MacInnis. Oh yeah, and he did it in his 62nd game of the season.
Scoring being what it is this season (high) one might say that being close to a point a game on a team with a lot of talent up front and a solid power play isn’t as impressive as it would have been if the league’s average save percentage were seven or eight points higher. But to put it to you another way: Giordano has more points than Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jeff Skinner, both of whom are broadly acknowledged as having great seasons. As forwards.
Giordano doesn’t lead the league in scoring among blue liners, and he’s not even second. Burns and Morgan Rielly are both ahead of him. There aren’t many defensemen who can play the kind of minutes Giordano can (almost 25 a night), put up the kind of possession numbers he does at 5-on-5 (56.5 percent CF, 55 percent xGF) he always does, and also see the kind of drop-off when he has a seat.
The argument here is that Brent Burns is putting up slightly better underlying numbers and scoring more than Giordano, but of course it’s easier to perform when you come off the ice and Erik Karlsson comes on. The Flames, however, are more or less a 50-percent-everything team when Giordano’s off because, as much as that blue line is getting paid, their results have been hit or miss to say the least. Giordano leads the league’s defensemen in goals above replacement at even strength, is eighth power play GAR, and has overall contributed nearly three extra wins to the Flames’ cause this year.
Put another way, in all situations, the Flames have outscored the competition by 47 when Giordano has been on the ice this year. Only Rielly’s plus-50 has been better. And when Giordano has been off? The Flames are only plus-5.
And again, Giordano comes by it honestly. He’s been a dominant defenseman for year, and in both 2013-14 and ’14-15, ended up being a couple of freak injuries away from almost certainly winning at least one Norris. You have to remember that these Flames teams were awful, but Giordano plugged away with a plus-11.7 and plus-6.9 corsi-for percentage in back-to-back years. These were the days when Jiri Hudler was the best forward in Calgary, which isn’t saying much (though Hudler was great for a while there).
One can understand where missing a quarter of a season gets you knocked out of serious Norris contention. But at least in ’13-14, when the Flames were as bad as the Tank Sabres when he was on the bench, he should have finished a hell of a lot higher than 10th in the voting. Some PHWA members tried to make up for it the next year, when he was objectively worse on a similarly bad team, missed even more games, but put him sixth in the voting.
This year, though? No excuses. Burns is having a better season on paper but the circumstances surrounding that better season make a vote for Giordano an easy choice. At 5-on-5, Burns — who, let’s be clear, has had a phenomenal season — has mostly gotten minutes against second units. That’s the benefit of having two elite defenders, I guess. Meanwhile, Giordano faces the toughest opponents Bill Peters can find for him. And they’re having similar amounts of success.
If we were going by the idea that Giordano is owed a Norris because he’s been great for so long, now would be a great time to do it. He’s one of only 11 defensemen to go better than 53 percent at 5-on-5 over the last six seasons, and among that group his relative number is the best (plus-5.9).
But we’re not. The fact is that he’s 35-plus and having the best offensive season of his career to go along with his usual high-end on-ice performance. This is just something you never, ever see from players this old who didn’t wear No. 5 for Detroit or No. 33 for Boston. And there’s no reason to suspect it’s going to drop off in the final 20 games.
So yeah, Giordano is “due” for a Norris, because he’s been so great for so long and has never been rewarded. But unlike the guys who were due before him, he actually deserves it in the year he should win it.
A novel concept, I know.
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