Arguably the most surreal moment this debut Kraken season was captain Mark Giordano being saluted Wednesday night for his recent 1,000th game in likely his final Climate Pledge Arena appearance in a home uniform.
That pregame ceremony, with a surprise voice appearance by his father, Paul, narrating a video tribute on the arena’s dual scoreboards, notably featured a healthy Giordano on the ice but not actually playing in the ensuing game. He was held out for precautionary reasons ahead of an expected trade as the Kraken were defeated 4-1 by the two-time-defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in a game where the score was closer than the on-ice play once the visitors found their legs.
On a day in which veteran forward Calle Jarnkrok was also traded to the Calgary Flames, Kraken alternate captain Jordan Eberle said after the loss that players moving on are “a part of the business” this time of year for teams near the bottom of the standings.
“We’re big boys, we know what the expectation is,” Eberle said. “This is a league that’s based on winning. The business is based on winning. When you’re not doing that, changes have to be made and you have to do what’s best for the organization.”
The game had actually started well for the Kraken, with Eberle and Yanni Gourde — leading contenders to replace Giordano as captain once he’s dealt — teaming up for a power play goal just 2:38 in. Gourde one-timed Eberle’s cross-ice pass from the right circle as the Kraken dominated the opening five minutes.
But both Eberle and Gourde would also factor into goals that put Tampa Bay ahead to stay.
First, Eberle lost his man on a failed poke-check attempt in the neutral zone, leading to a 2-on-1 break where Steven Stamkos passed to Nikita Kucherov for a textbook goal that tied it at 6:26 of the first. Then, after Gourde took a slashing penalty in the second period, Victor Hedman unleashed a howitzer blast from the left point that rocketed past a screened Philipp Grubauer on the short side to make it 2-1.
Anthony Cirelli scored on a wild scramble just 23 seconds into the third period to provide insurance for a Lightning team that could have been up four or five if not for Grubauer’s stellar netminding. Hedman added his second power play goal of the night with just under six minutes remaining to close things out.
Tampa Bay had six power play opportunities — with Hedman scoring on two of them — to help seize momentum.
“Give them that many opportunities on the power play and they’re going to get a couple,” Eberle said. “It’s that simple. They’re lethal. That unit has played together for a number of years.”
It was a difficult night all around for the Kraken, outshot 39-25 and having learned just two hours before puck drop that forward Jarnkrok had been traded to Calgary for multiple draft picks. With Giordano, it’s no secret he’d agreed to work with the Kraken on dealing him to a contender and word early Wednesday that he’d be scratched from the lineup on his big night only increased speculation his days here are numbered.
“The human element to it is part of it,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said afterward. “And everybody’s a part of this business. There’s obviously a lot of care for Jarny (Jarnkrok) as a teammates, as a guy inside that dressing room. And he carries a ton of respect.
“There’s no way to — nor would you want to — minimize that,” he added. “And obviously, knowing Gio’s situation, there’s a lot of emotion there. First off, for the occasion. For he and his family. And then, obviously, being held out of the lineup, that’s the fine line between the business side of this and the human element of it.”
Giordano’s tenure with the Kraken was always a curious one, selected in the expansion draft from his longtime Flames team he’d captained since 2013. At age 38 and this his lone remaining contract year at $6 million, it was clear he’d be flipped to a contender the minute the Kraken fell out of the playoff chase.
As those playoff dreams were unexpectedly done by Thanksgiving, Giordano — through no fault of his own — has been rendered a rare sports “Rent-A-Captain” for all but a month and change of his lone Kraken season. Even so, the on-ice tribute was tasteful and the Climate Pledge crowd warmly acknowledged Giordano’s milestone achievement — becoming the 364th player to reach 1,000 games — as did NHL stars from other teams in the video tribute.
Giordano’s parents had traveled from Ontario, Canada and were in the stands watching. His wife, Lauren, son, Jack, and daughter, Reese, were down on the ice with him to receive gifts that included a Rolex watch from teammates, silver sticks and a vacation for four to Hawaii from the team.
But Giordano, for all the good he’s tried to do in the franchise’s opening season, always seemed like a captain unwillingly and somewhat bizarrely poached from his true team. Given COVID-19 restrictions, which have limited Kraken player interactions with fans, Giordano’s community ties here were but a shell of what they were in Calgary and thus Wednesday’s ceremony was polite but lacking in true crowd emotion.
The most genuine emotion will undoubtedly come from his first-year teammates in eventually saying goodbye. Then, the team faces a tough final six weeks down at least one and soon likely two veterans from what they began Wednesday with.
Eberle summed it up succinctly. “You can try to find as many excuses as you want,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re still trying to build. We’ve got 20 games to see who wants to be here.”