The clock was ticking. As the National Hockey League trade deadline neared the finish line it appeared that general manager Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs were perhaps content to do little to improve their roster.
While Atlantic division rivals the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, and Tampa Bay Lightning added established players like Marc-Andre Fleury, Hampus Lindholm, Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot, Brandon Hagel, and Nick Paul, the Leafs had yet to add anyone of significance. Dubas had previously stated he did not want to part with a future first-round draft pick. Then, on the day before the deadline, he acquired defenseman Mark Giordano from the Seattle Kraken. In addition to Giordano, Colin Blackwell was also acquired to bolster the fourth line and provide depth for the top nine forwards if needed. The cost was three draft picks, but not a first-rounder.
To date, the move has been a home run for Dubas and the Maple Leafs.
Mark Giordano Enjoying His Return Home With the Leafs
Mark Giordano seems rejuvenated by his return to the Greater Toronto Area and playing for his hometown Leafs. His recent performance in an overtime win against the Ottawa Senators was reminiscent of his Norris trophy-winning days with the Calgary Flames. Before overtime, he notched a pair of assists. The second one was a beautiful “shot-pass” that set up Michael Bunting at the edge of the crease. From that moment on, the momentum of the game shifted toward the Leafs.
Later, in overtime, he buried the game-winning goal on a short-side wrist shot before Sens’ goalie Anton Forsberg had a chance to react. It capped off a 3-point performance and made traveling Leafs’ fans happy that they made the trip to Ottawa. In his time with the Leafs he has chipped in 9 points in fourteen games. More importantly, he has brought poise and leadership to a still-young team that could use his guidance.
Brings Trust and Leadership
Head coach Sheldon Keefe also seems to trust him. Well over half of his shifts start in the defensive zone, a true sign that your coach has faith in you. Keefe also understands that he needs to monitor his time-on-ice. Most nights, Giordano has played between 18 to 20 minutes. He plays on the second power-play unit, which is often only the last 30 seconds. This helps keep his minutes down. While on the PP, he adds a “heavy” shot from the point, something the Leafs have lacked in recent years.
In his short time with the Leafs, Giordano’s teammates seem to appreciate what he brings to the team. Bunting had this to say after the win against Ottawa. “He’s a veteran and he came in and had that veteran presence right away. He was the captain for a very long time in Calgary and then the captain in Seattle. He carries himself like that.” Leaders don’t always need to be outspoken. Giordano seems to understand that actions speak louder than words and carries himself accordingly. Others are likely to notice him sacrificing his body to block a shot and his poise with the puck.
Flexibility in Defense Pairs
With the addition of Giordano to the defense corps, Keefe now has multiple options with his defensemen. He can go with more traditional right-left pairings as he has recently. Also, the Leafs now have more depth to play in their top 4. Last year, Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie, Justin Holl, and Jake Muzzin were the top two pairings. After this the drop-off was significant. Now, Rielly, Brodie, Holl, Muzzin, along with Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin provide depth and some interchangeable parts depending on matchups. Timothy Liljegren‘s play has also improved since being partnered with Mark Giordano once he came to the Leafs. Muzzin is expected to return to play this week. Rasmus Sandin is back skating on his own at practice and ideally will be back for a couple of games before the end of the regular season.
When the playoffs start, the Leafs will potentially have more depth and talent than they have had in any of the previous five years. This can only help them navigate the Eastern Conference gauntlet.
Should they manage to get past that daunting first-round hurdle, the trade for a thirty-eight-year-old hometown boy could be a big reason why.