Mark Giordano believes hockey-starved Canadians are going to get even more than they bargained for when the NHL returns in the new year.
The 37-year-old Calgary Flames captain figures the advent of regular back-to-back matchups with divisional rivals will generate grittier, playoff-style hockey throughout a compacted season.
“There’s going to be a lot more chippiness to the games – that’s the nature of playing the same team over and over again,” said the former Norris Trophy winner, whose squad already has plenty of hostility baked into its matchups with several members of the All-Canadian division, including Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
“It’s going to be a pretty cool year for the fans. Playing each other more often creates that rivalry and hatred for the other team. You look at the NFL playing 16 games and every game feels like a playoff game. At 56 games there’s no room for a slide. In a regular season you can lose six or seven in a row and make it up, but there’ no room for that this year. I think that’s going to bring out the best in teams – it’s going to be super competitive.”
As part of a lengthy one-on-one covering a wide spectrum of topics, Giordano said the shortened season could benefit a veteran team like the Flames, who he now pegs as having perhaps the best goalie tandem in the league:
SN: How does the 56-game sked change your approach to the season?
MG: I think it puts a lot more pressure on teams to have a good start. I can’t remember perfectly, but when we played the last 48-game season (2012-13) we didn’t get into the playoffs. The teams that get off to a real good start can basically solidify themselves pretty early. There’s going to be a ton of issues with the condensed schedule — rest is so much more important, and you won’t get as much practice time, so you have to do other things to stay sharp.
SN: Does a shorter season benefit a veteran team like yours?
MG: I think so. A lot of teams have so much movement, and we’re no exception to that, but I feel like we have a bunch of core players who have been around a long time. We know our system and our tendencies and we know each other well, so it will be beneficial for us to have that chemistry and get going early.
SN: Is there a belief your team’s time is now?
MG: We were talking in the dressing room today about how it’s setting up. Looks like we’re going to have a Canadian division, which means a Canadian team in the semifinals. We’ve been a team with some success here recently in the regular season but we all know collectively it hasn’t been good enough in the playoffs. We think we got the number one goalie on the UFA market and Chris Tanev and other great signings like (Josh) Leivo coming in. We’re definitely a deep team that is expected to contend and that’s how we feel in our room. There’s excitement because there’s a huge reward if you can get out of your division.
SN: What does the addition of Jacob Markstrom mean for the team?
MG: We’re getting the number one guy on the UFA market and a guy who I thought was Vancouver’s best player last year. Playing against him, he’s just a big guy who is athletic and can move around and cover a lot of the net.
It’s going to be huge for our team. With the combination of him and Ritter (David Rittich) back there I think we stack up against anyone in the league when it comes to goaltending. We all know how important goaltending is and I think we’re looking pretty good between the pipes.
SN: What did you learn about this team last year?
MG: It was a weird season – some of the ups and downs we went through we had never experienced before. We had a lot of things happen and I thought we were pretty resilient. We came through it and went on a nice run before we got shut down before Covid.
I was really happy the way we came together quickly as a group in the bubble and had a great series against Winnipeg. I thought we had a great start against Dallas and it was a hard blow for a lot of us – we feel like Game 4 was obviously a turning point in the series and is still a tough pill to swallow to let that one slip way and basically turn the series around for Dallas.
We did a good job and improved in a lot of areas. We played a different system that we adapted to pretty well and we have to carry that on this year and get better at it and keep growing.
At the end of the day we’re all smart enough to know this group is going to be judged on playoff success from here on out, so we know we’ve got to get there and make some noise when we do.
SN: Did it change your outlook to see Dallas go to the Cup final after beating you?
MG: I think so, yes. A lot of people didn’t give Dallas enough credit for how good they were. We really did have them on the ropes in Game 4 – if we win that game it would have been tough for them to come back. (Miro) Heiskanen and (John) Klingberg were dominant in the playoffs, the rest of their defence was solid and they have a lot of veteran guys up front who really played well for them as they went right to Game 6 in the final. I definitely think they were a great team that gained momentum as the playoffs went on.
SN: How would you describe your season last year personally?
MG: In the regular season I felt good and thought I was playing well, but obviously the numbers weren’t there offensively the way they were the year before. But you’ve got to learn that sometimes the puck is going to go in and sometimes it isn’t and you can’t change the way you play or get frustrated because of that. I don’t think I played my best hockey in the playoffs — I can be a lot better. I have to be a whole lot better for us to have success.
SN: How do you look at the changing of the guard on your blue line?
MG: There’s a lot of optimism because we have young guys like Rasmus Andersson and (Juuso) Valimaki. (Noah) Hanifin is in that group too – young guys who can really step up and are ready to be top-four defencemen in our league and make that next step.
We signed a guy like Chris Tanev too, who I think is really underrated. He moves the puck really well and skates well and I don’t think people give him enough credit for that side of the game. We all know how good he is defensively. Our fans will be pleasantly surprised in watching him play. I look at our defensive core and I think we are really deep and the minutes will be spread out pretty nicely and we have a lot of guys who can play different roles.
SN: In your mind, how close are we to getting some concrete plans announced for the upcoming season?
MG: As players we’re expecting that something is going to happen by the end of this week or early next week. If we’re talking about a Jan. 13 start date there’s not much more time to have something announced. As far as getting guys into cities and through quarantine it’s got to happen pretty quick. It seems it has been pretty positive this week and hopefully that continues and we can get everything announced.
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