Mark Giordano said he had the Toronto Maple Leafs on his radar and how could he ignore it?
With his name linked to trade reports for weeks, the stars seemed to align perfectly for the Norris Trophy winner from 2019 who grew up cheering for his hometown Maple Leafs.
But it was the desire to win a Stanley Cup that made him happiest to join his new club.
“It being my hometown is a huge bonus, but to be able to come to that has a real good shot to create some damage is something I’m really excited about,” Giordano told reporters in a media conference on Zoom on Sunday.
The Maple Leafs acquired the 38-year-old defenceman along with forward Colin Blackwell from the Seattle Kraken in exchange for a pair of second-round draft picks in ’22 and ’23 and a third-round pick in ’24. The Kraken also retained 50 per cent of Giordano’s $6.75 million salary-cap hit.
Giordano had to be patient as he was held out of the Kraken’s last two games as a means of asset protection. Playing with an expansion franchise after spending his entire 15-year NHL career with the Calgary Flames, it became clear to him several weeks back that the Kraken weren’t going to contend for a playoff spot.
“Ronnie (Kraken GM Ron Francis) had a great relationship with them and he knew obviously that I was from Toronto and he knew this would be a great fit for me,” Giordano said. “I want to make sure I mention how great the organization treated me here right until the end.”
From a brand new experience of captaining an expansion franchise, Giordano will join a team midseason for the first time in his career. There will be a lot of familiar faces, including defenceman TJ Brodie. The two remain good friends off the ice after 10 seasons together.
As far as where Giordano will play in the lineup, he didn’t have answers for that with the deal being fresh and new, but with defenceman Jake Muzzin still out with a concussion, pairing Giordano with Brodie seems like a logical first step.
“I think Brods doesn’t get enough credit for how good he is,” Giordano said. “I don’t know if you guys have noticed but he makes every partner that he plays with look really good. That was the case for a bunch of years when I played with him.
“I really like playing with him because he would fake two or three guys over and then slide the puck over to me and I’d have all day to walk into the shots so we were really comfortable with each other.”
Giordano has a point.
When Muzzin went down with his second concussion of the season on Feb. 21 against the Montreal Canadiens, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe shifted Brodie down to the second pair to skate with Justin Holl.
While the primary function of this was to add some depth that was missing on the second pair with Muzzin out, Holl’s play showed signs of improvement with Brodie by his side.
In the nearly 200 minutes of time Brodie and Holl skated together, they have a Corsi of 53.69 per cent, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. With Muzzin and Holl as a duo, that number slides down to 50.35 per cent.
In Giordano, the Leafs get an effective defenceman who can play in the top-four. And with newcomer Ilya Lyubushkin not looking out of place with Morgan Rielly on the top pair, Giordano reuniting with Brodie again on the second pair could be a natural place for the Leafs to start while they await clarity on Muzzin and when he can return.
Along with Brodie being present, Giordano knows many of the Maple Leafs from spending his summers training in Toronto and that should also help his transition to the new club.
“I’ve grown up playing against Spezz (Jason Spezza) all my life,” Giordano said. “I feel pretty comfortable coming into that dressing room.”
Like Spezza, a Stanley Cup has eluded Giordano. He becomes the second captain of another team in as many years to be acquired by the Maple Leafs just a day before the trade deadline.
Last season, the Leafs acquired Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno in a three-way deal that saw them give up a first-round pick as part of the package. And as top targets around the NHL fetched first-round draft picks over the last few days, Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas held firm and didn’t surrender any of them to land Giordano, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
It wasn’t easy though.
Earlier in the day, the Leafs sent down forward Nick Robertson and waived forward Kyle Clifford and struggling goaltender Petr Mrazek, while signing 2022 Olympic Gold Medallist goaltender Harri Sateri. The Finn has to clear waivers before he can join the Maple Leafs for the remainder of the season.
The Leafs also traded defenceman Travis Dermott to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick.
Toronto is technically over the NHL salary cap after all of these moves, which is why they waited until after 5 p.m. ET to formalize the Giordano trade. Once that time passed, they don’t have to technically be cap compliant again until 5 p.m. ET the following day. At which point, players like Mrazek or Clifford will either be claimed (or more likely clear) and can be assigned to the Marlies. Only $1.125 million of Mrazek’s $3.8 million cap hit will be freed up if the Czech goaltender clears waivers and is sent down.
Once the waiver wire comes in at 2 p.m. ET on Monday, the Leafs will have more clarity on what their cap situation is and if they have room to do more.
But for now, the Leafs addressed their biggest need on defence in landing Giordano. He said when he became a professional hockey player, he had to stop cheering for the Leafs because he didn’t want to be jealous should they win a Stanley Cup while he’s with another club.
For one year, anyway, that won’t be the case.
Like Foligno last year, he has vivid memories of a Leafs team that went all the way to the Clarence Campbell Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings in 1993. But obviously, the Leafs are hoping that Giordano will have better luck than Foligno, who dealt with a debilitating back injury for most of his tenure with Toronto.
“Most 38-year-old guys would have played more games by now,” Giordano said. “I sort of started and developed later, I would say in my career and physically, I feel good.”
Giordano played in his 1000th NHL game earlier this month on Mar. 5, just one day after Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds hit the same milestone at age 33.
As other teams in the Atlantic Division bolstered their team with trades over the last week, it was just a matter of time when the Leafs were going to do it.
Now the big question is will they do more? And how will they do it?
The NHL Trade Deadline is 3 p.m. ET on Monday, Mar. 21.