This night of reunion between Kraken captain Mark Giordano and his former team was always destined to feel a tad unusual.
Giordano lived, breathed and fought for the Calgary Flames his previous 14 NHL seasons, both as an on-ice leader and off-ice community pillar. So, leaving and joining the Kraken last summer was never his choice nor has it ever seemingly made much sense given he’s 38 and on an expansion franchise building toward little but its future.
But Giordano always remained professional and upbeat about his forced change of scenery. He was much the same Thursday when peppered with questions by media from two cities about his new team meeting his former one in their first game that actually counts for something.
“It’s about playing with so many of those guys there for a long time and having great relationships,” Giordano said. “So, it’s going to be cool playing against them. I think we’re all competitive, so we want to do well against each other. And obviously, I’m the same. So, it will be fun.”
Giordano once again did well early on Thursday night, opening the scoring just 5:48 into the game. He did the same three months ago in a preseason affair in Calgary, which wasn’t quite the same as facing his ex-teammates in a game that’s for real.
The Kraken these days are looking for reasons to have fun. They’d won just one of their past seven games and were last in the Pacific Division at 10-17-4 heading into Thursday’s clash.
Calgary, meanwhile, sat atop the division most of the season until losing its last four to drop to 15-7-6 ahead of a 19-day layoff due to COVID-19 postponements. Until the recent decline, the Flames under new coach Darryl Sutter had high hopes this season might represent their best Stanley Cup opportunity in years.
“They’re playing a great defensive game,” Giordano said. “I think right from their goaltending out, they don’t give up much. But their structure is what stands out and they’re playing a style of play that results in wins.”
And it probably won’t be lost on anyone as the March 21 trade deadline approaches that the Flames could use a veteran leader and blueline presence like Giordano ahead of any playoff drive. Especially with the Kraken all-but-eliminated from contention by performances that haven’t quite matched some of their advance billing.
“I think our team and our D-corps as a whole, we’ve done a ton of good things this year,” Giordano said of the Kraken, who likely deserved better than an overtime loss to the Flyers on Wednesday but couldn’t put away needed goals or hold a late lead. “I think we’ve progressed and gotten better and better. I think we’re not getting the results that we want, obviously … and that’s happened too many times this year.”
Too many times, at least, for the Kraken’s record to improve enough to avoid talk of Giordano being flipped at the deadline for a high-round draft pick. That was the plausible escape hatch speculated about last July when folks questioned why the Kraken would select Calgary’s most popular player for a hefty $6 million salary cap hit in the twilight of his career.
Giordano added of his current team: “As far as progressing, as the years gone on, I think as a group we’ve gotten better and better defensively.”
The question is whether Giordano will be around by Year 2 of that progression.
NHL teams have traded longtime captains before, including Kraken GM Ron Francis being dealt to Pittsburgh by the Hartford Whalers in March 1991. But Francis was only three days past his 28th birthday, a decade younger than Giordano when the Kraken took him from Calgary last summer.
Sure, Giordano is only three years removed from winning the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defender. But the concept of a “rent-a-captain” is a new one in the sports world, with little precedent beyond the Kraken in that regard.
Typically, teams select captains hoping they stick around. That’s one reason the Flames left Giordano unprotected in the draft, figuring odds were good the Kraken wouldn’t bite.
The closest thing Seattle sports has seen to Giordano’s situation – if he indeed is traded – was the Mariners signing ace pitcher Cliff Lee for what amounted to a half-season rental in 2010. At that year’s trade deadline, the bottoming-out Mariners jettisoned Lee for four players.
But Lee was never made a team captain, which most baseball squads eschew. Giordano had been the Flames’ captain since 2013.
An expansion team is about the only one that could attempt something like what the Kraken have done with Giordano, namely because it’s a squad of newcomers. And among first-timers on the team, putting the “C” on a guy who’d been a captain longer than most teammates had been NHL regulars made some sense.
As for the Flames, Giordano couldn’t help but think about his ex-teammates when they were ravaged this month by a COVID outbreak. Giordano battled through his own coronavirus case less than a month ago and admitted he “worried” about his former teammates, their wives and children.
He’s glad they emerged largely unscathed. And he’s glad for the opportunity to face them after a game in Calgary was postponed last week.
“It’s still pretty cool to play against a lot of familiar faces,” he said.
For Flames fans still irate he was taken away to begin with, it would undoubtedly be more cool if he’s reunited on a more permanent scale by next spring’s playoffs.
… Kraken forward Jaden Schwartz was a late scratch from Wednesday’s game and is day-to-day with an upper body injury. Schwartz collided twice with Flyers goalie Martin Jones in the late stages of Wednesday’s loss.
… The Kraken added forward Kole Lind to the roster from its newly instated taxi-squad and played him on a line with Alexander True and Max McCormick, also up with the team from the AHL Charlotte Checkers.
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