Hockey

Game #44 – Flames vs. Hawks Spotlight: Life After Lifetime Achievement

It’s not fair to to Mark Giordano to merely label his Norris Trophy win last year a “Lifetime Achievement Award,” even if it had that feel. Gio had been one of the league’s best d-men for a while, certainly one of it’s premier puck-movers, and a spike in point-total was all that was required to get him an award he probably should have won. Had he not gotten hurt in 2014 he very well may have won that year, to match some truly bonkers relative metrics.

In reality, Giordano’s ’18-’19 wasn’t all that different from his ’17-’18, as in both he had utterly dominant possession numbers. Gio clearly took to the hiring of Bill Peters, who swept away the conservative, whatever the fuck tactics of Glengarry Glen Gulutzan or Bob Hartley before that and got the Flames going up the ice aggressively. Gio’s individual and team-rates are pretty much exactly the same over the two years. The difference was that last year the Flames shot 10% when Gio was on the ice, which was a huge jump from the 6.7% the year previous. So Gio ended up with 57 assists instead of 25, to go with 17 goals, which weren’t really out of line with what he’d done before.

Fair enough, Gio was really good last year and no one is upset that he has a Norris in his case now. What comes next? Well, there may have been a warning shot in last year’s playoffs.

In five games, Gio was clocked to the tune of a 44 CF% and a 45% xG%, both of which were over 10 points lower than his regular season marks. And they were mostly due to the tire tracks on his chest that Nathan MacKinnon was leaving over those five games, though to be fair to him he was only on the ice for two goals against and one for in that series. That doesn’t mean the chances weren’t flowing and they were mostly flowing the wrong way.

Something has carried over into this season. All of Gio’s metrics are way down, including his own attempts and chances. It would be easy to point to the sinking Flames ship as a whole, but his relative Corsi has tanked along with it. His relative xG% has stayed up though, so even if he’s spending more time in his zone he’s not conceding a wealth of great chances while doing it.

What gives? First, it’s hard to ignore that Giordano turned 36 right before the season, and you can’t keep the wolves of age at the door forever. Everyone loses a step, and Gio only need look at Duncan Keith his contemporary to see that. Keith’s fall came earlier, but Keith also played a ton more hockey at the top level than Giordano has.

It hasn’t helped that T.J. Brodie, Giordano’s partner for all of last year, is himself declining as he closes out his 20s. Brodie was always Gio dependent, but this year even that’s not enough. Gio’s numbers shoot up a bit when paired with younger Rasmus Andersson, and that’s what the Flames have gone to of late.

Going forward, the Flames might find themselves in the same position as the Hawks, needing to find a replacement for their stalwart while he’s still around. That was the hope for Andersson, but he hasn’t grabbed that yet. Neither has Oliver Kylington, who is in and out of the lineup. The Flames might have the option of going outside the organization for help, as they’ll have over $20M in space in the summer including both Brodie and Hamonic being free agents if they choose to remake their blue line.

Gio will be 37 then, and the time is now for the Flames given the ages of Gaudreau and Monahan and Tkachuk. It would be folly to trust the big minutes entirely to a 37-year-old for a Cup contender, which is what the Flames are built to be (even if they’ve spent the first part of this year being decidedly something else). Giordano’s one individual award won’t be enough for everyone.

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