It's time for the Leafs to have a heart-to-heart with Mark Giordano
When the Toronto Maple Leafs originally acquired Mark Giordano in the spring of 2022 via a trade with the Seattle Kraken, it marked the latest in a string of veteran acquisitions looking to cap off their careers with a team competing for the Stanley Cup.
Like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Wayne Simmonds, and Jason Spezza before him, Giordano joined Toronto with high hopes of spending some of his final playing days playing an important part of a roster competing for a championship.
But following a disappointing exit at the hands of the Florida Panthers in the second round of the NHL playoffs — one where Giordano himself struggled mightily — it might be time for the Leafs and their veteran defender to have a heart-to-heart about what his future with the franchise looks like.
He averaged 18:57 of ice time in the regular season across 78 games, while playing 17:05 across Toronto’s first nine playoff contests this year.
But once it became clear he wasn’t exactly up to his best, Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe played Giordano just 9:07 per night in the playoffs over Toronto’s final three games.
Giordano was on the ice for 11 goals against the Leafs at 5v5 in the postseason, in comparison to just four goals for his team.
It’s a stark contrast from his 56-39 on-ice goal share in this year’s regular season, but it’s enough of a worrying trend to wonder whether he’ll ever be a piece of Toronto’s playoff mix once again.
It’s natural to see a player of his calibre decline: at 39, Giordano is actually the oldest active player in the NHL. His 1,102 NHL games are about 1,102 more than many would’ve projected him to play when he went undrafted out of junior, and he’s had a remarkable career to date, capped off by the 2018-19 award as the NHL’s best defenceman.
But for a Toronto team in need of every edge they can get come playoff time, keeping Giordano around as one of their six best defenceman doesn’t seem like a good use of the team’s resources.
Giordano appears to know the extent of his struggles, too.
“For me, it hasn’t been good enough. No matter what you want to say about goals against and plus/minus is a bad stat… at the end of the day, that’s who wins the game, whoever scores more goals,” Giordano told reporters about his play following Toronto’s Game 2 loss to the Panthers. “You have to win games, and it’s more about finding a way to win no matter what. It doesn’t matter who out-chances who.”
So what are the Leafs’ options with Giordano?
Giordano remains under contract for the 2023-24 season on the back half of a two-year deal worth $800,000 per season, though it’s hard to imagine Toronto’s decisions related to him will be tied to his contract status, as it’s about as cheap a contract as it gets.
Toronto could conceivably find a trading partner pretty easily for his contract, but it seems unlikely they’d send the NHL’s oldest player away in a deal to save under a million dollars on the salary cap.
Assuming he’s healthy, Giordano could merely play a limited number of regular season games (say, 60-65?) and then be an option come postseason time, but not necessarily guaranteed a spot on one of Toronto’s top three pairings.
Giordano was already the seventh defenceman in the latter half of Toronto’s playoff run while they ran an 11-7 lineup, so it seems hard to imagine he’d have too many complaints about becoming the occasional healthy scratch to benefit the team.
Then there’s the player development or front office option, where Giordano effectively retires but remains close with the team, helping out at practices and around the rink.
It’s a route undertaken by Stephane Robidas in the 2015-16 season following one year with the Leafs before becoming a skills development coach, who spent the entire year on long-term injured reserve while still under contract with Toronto.
It’s somewhat similar to the route taken by Wayne Simmonds, who played just 18 games this past season with Toronto while clearing waivers on multiple occasions. Simmonds played when needed, but never really was in serious consideration for the team’s postseason roster.
Of course, there’s the option of actual retirement, though Giordano would be forfeiting $800,000 when he doesn’t necessarily need to. Should Giordano retire, maybe he’ll go the route of Spezza, who landed a job as an assistant to Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas this past year following three seasons in Toronto.
Maybe Giordano’s playing days are over, or maybe he’s got a little bit left in some capacity to help out the Leafs. But at the very least, it’s clear that something needs to change in order to see him succeed in Toronto.
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