Hockey

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.

Everything Else

You know us. We do this every so often. One day, we’re going to get our hockey equivalent of Felix Hernandez’s Cy Young, when he won just 13 games. It was a triumph for the analytic set, a true breaking down of the walls to look at process and not just results.

It may be a long time before we get that with hockey. It may never happen. The Norris Trophy may always be the guy who gets the most points from the blue line combined with an already sterling reputation, deserved or not. Or whoever Eddie Olczyk says should win it. Or both. Or maybe it’ll always be Erik Karlsson, and that’s ok. He’s a sweet boy. He should have more than he does.

John Klingberg seems to have the inside track this year, leading all d-men in scoring for a resurgent Dallas team. Karlsson will probably be a finalist. Kings fans are wetting themselves to get scumbag Doughty another one, perhaps in the hopes their efforts will keep him there when he becomes a free agent in 2019. Not likely. Brent Burns and PK Subban are leading their teams in scoring, which is always a big feather.

Hampus Lindholm will never score enough to get noticed by voters. Playing in Anaheim certainly doesn’t help, as no writer can stay up past 10:30 apparently. But perhaps one day, when they look past points, he will get a chance. Or he’ll have to binge one year. But let’s make the case.

Here’s the evidence: Hampus has the best relative-corsi of any d-man in the league playing over 200 minutes at even-strength this year. Better than both Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano, who get to play together. He has the second-best relative expected goals percentage, behind something called Tim Heed on the Sharks. He’s 10th among all d-men in attempts against per 60. Quite simply, no team improves as much with one player on the ice against when he’s not then the Ducks do when Hampus is out there.

Moreover, whereas Giordano and Hamilton get to play with each other, Hampus has played with Josh Manson, who isn’t a slob but isn’t Dougie or Giordano either. Whereas Klingberg has seen most of his passes go to Seguin, Benn, and Radulov, Hampus plays behind mostly Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano. Not exactly breathtaking scorers, though solid wingers in their own right.

It’s a pretty solid case, though one that won’t see Hampus anywhere near Vegas when the baubles are handed out. What we can say that at $5 million per for the next six years, Hampus is just about the biggest bargain you can find on any blue line. He’ll have to live with that if he doesn’t get any silverware.

 

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That’s probably a little harsh on Duncan Keith, who hasn’t died, just diminished. And he’s carried a lot more playoff and Olympic miles than Mark Giordano. Though really, that’s not Giordano’s fault, because the Flames haven’t been good enough around him and Team Canada likes to huff ether before picking their blue line. And it doesn’t matter given the talent. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a defenseman that’s been any better than Gio the past seven years.

In those seven years, there isn’t a d-man who has a better relative Corsi to his team than Giordano, who checks in at +4.88. That’s better than Karlsson, better than Subban, better than Keith (though in this category Keith is hurt by the Hawks always being a dominant possession team in the past).

When it comes to relative expected goals percentage the past seven years, Giordano is second to Jared Spurgeon. Again, the Flames have had some pretty bad teams in that stretch, but only Spurgeon has stuck his head farther above the water level that his team established.

Giordano is having something of a renaissance season, though he was never as bad in recent years as some would have had you believe. Gio is rocking his highest CF% of his career a 57.3%. His expected goals percentage of the same mark is also the highest of his career. Gio has benefitted from getting more offensive zone starts than before, though that’s somewhat attributable to the Flames being a better possession team than before. And some of it is being partnered with Dougie Hamilton all year, forming perhaps the best pairing in the West.

All of this leads to whether or not Giordano will be a a Norris finalist. If he didn’t win for his tour-de-force 2013-2014 seasons he’s probably never going to. We’ve cataloged who should win but won’t, and he’s on that list. Generally how voters tend to do this, John Klingberg will get it even though Giordano whomps him in all the categories that matter other than scoring. Subban will also get those votes.

When he first signed his seven-year extension that kicked in last year that pays him $6.7 million per year, it was derided as Seabrook-like. The Flames have already gotten more value out of this one than the Hawks did. And you wouldn’t expect Gio to fall off the Earth next year. Yeah, the last two years might be ugly, but that will be post-lockout and who knows what the rules will be. Especially if Hamilton is riding shotgun for a while.

Going back to the Norris discussion, this will be a test again of how we evaluate the award. What else can you ask of a d-man than to keep the play out of his own zone and get it up the ice? Only Subban is scoring a ton of goals himself. Can others be blamed if their forwards don’t convert their passes at the same rate? No one’s doing it better than Gio this year. How many votes will he get?

 

 

 

 

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Come to the end of the defense, which ends with the Hawk most likely to take home personal silverware this season. Mostly due to his excellent play, with slight credit to Eddie Olczyk banging the drum from November on, Keith has been the Norris front-runner for a while. He added a second gold-medal as well this year, the only time he didn’t have to drag around a jack-cheese soaked partner. How much that balances out his not taking the toughest competition is up for debate. But wherever you land on that, Keith had a mostly excellent season.

Regular Season: 79 games, 6 goals, 55, assists, 61 points, +22, 0.13 Behind The Net Rating, 16.40 Corsi per 60 (+7.2 Corsi Relative per 60).

Playoffs: 19 games, 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points, +7, 1.57 Behind The Net Rating, -1.91 Corsi per 60 (+0.4 Corsi Relative per 60)