For weeks, there have been rumors the Toronto Maple Leafs were eyeing veteran defenseman Mark Giordano as a trade target.
For weeks, there have been rumors the Toronto Maple Leafs were eyeing veteran defenseman Mark Giordano as a trade target, and it made sense from both the team’s and the player’s perspectives: for Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, Giordano represented a serious upgrade on his team’s second defense pairing; for Giordano, it meant a homecoming – he was born and raised in Toronto, some 39 years ago – and a chance to enjoy what might be his final run at a Stanley Cup championship.
Giordano may be almost 40, but he was still able to average 22:21 of ice time in 55 games with the expansion Seattle Kraken. And there’s a good reason why he was chosen as the Kraken’s first captain – he exudes professionalism and calmness, and that’s exactly what the Leafs need right now. That’s why Toronto finalized a deal for him Sunday, one day before the trade deadline. Dubas dealt two second-round draft picks and a third-rounder to Seattle for Giordano (with Seattle retaining half of Giordano’s salary) and forward Colin Blackwell, and even if Giordano is a pure rental, the market for experienced D-men was high – see the Montreal/Florida trade for Ben Chiarot – and every other team in a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division made moves to improve their lineup. The Leafs couldn’t stand pat and expect to make a solid playoff run.
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It’s possible Dubas moves money around in the summer and takes a stab at keeping Giordano next season, but it likely would necessitate Giordano accepting a significant cut from his present-day $6.75-million salary. The open market would still guarantee he makes at least half that amount, but the Leafs would try their best to open up enough cap space to keep him around, and solidify their defense corps to include first-pair veteran Morgan Rielly, second-pair, rugged-veteran Jake Muzzin, and T.J. Brodie, Giordano’s defense partner for five years with the Calgary Flames. Once Muzzin returns from concussion protocols, that’s a fairly impressive top four on the back end, and it creates more competition between mid-season addition Ilya Lyubushkin, veteran Justin Holl, and youngsters Rasmus Sandin, and Timothy Liljegren for the remaining two spots.
On the same day Giordano was acquired, Dubas traded away defenseman Travis Dermott to Vancouver for a third-round draft pick, placed off-season acquisition Petr Mrazek on waivers, and signed free agent veteran goalie Harri Sateri to a prorated contract for the remainder of this season. All in all, Dubas’ moves made it clear Leafs brass were not going to stay the course with the same group of defenders. Toronto’s recent slide in the standings was all about their play in their own zone, and now, with Giordano and Sateri on board, Dubas is expecting a far better showing on the ‘D’ side of things.
Giordano has been remarkably consistent, even into his late thirties. This season, he has 17 assists and 23 points in 55 games; last season, he put up 17 assists and 56 points in 56 games with Calgary. The year before that, he generated 26 assists and 31 points in 60 games. If you’re expecting him to be the highest-scoring blueliner in the league, you’ll be disappointed, but if you don’t need him to do all the heavy lifting, you’ll be satisfied by the results he gives you.
Blackwell isn’t as notable a name as Giordano, but he will ramp up the competition for one of the Leafs’ bottom-six group of forwards, and with eight goals and with eight goals and 17 points in 39 games with Seattle this season, he could turn into a pleasant surprise. But make no mistake, this transaction is primarily about defense,
In recent years, the Leafs have been sunk in the playoffs because their defense corps had many a hole in it. With Giordano now wearing Blue and White, there are virtually no excuses for Toronto to bow out in the first round of the post-season. The Leafs have a handful of regular-season games left to figure out who is most comfortable playing with who, but the moves Dubas made Sunday are all about playoff success.
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