BOCA RATON, Fla. – Basketball has the so-called Patrick Ewing effect to explain how players on a team that loses its best player raise their game to compensate. Hockey may soon have the Mark Giordano effect.
Giordano was a Norris Trophy candidate for the Calgary Flames before a torn biceps tendon ended his season in late February. Without their captain, the Flames have gone 5-2-1 to not only keep their playoff hopes alive but strengthen them.
General manager Brad Treliving didn’t question his team’s resolve in the face of that devastating injury, but he also didn’t know how the season would turn.
“Whether we were going to have enough, that was the question,” Treliving said at this week’s NHL general managers meeting. “I can’t say enough about the job people have done and not just on the blue-line. You’ve seen people’s minutes increase, you’ve seen their responsibility increase, and everybody’s done a wonderful job.”
Defencemen Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell are averaging 28 minutes a game in Giordano’s absence, big increases from their previous workload. Wideman also has nine assists.
Up front, Jiri Hudler has six goals and six assists with two game-winners, Sean Monahan has seven goals and four assists with two game-winners, Johnny Gaudreau has four goals and five assists and Mikael Backlund has three goals and five assists.
Calgary needed players to seize opportunity, and they’ve done it beyond anyone’s expectations.
“You need that, first of all. You need people to step up,” Treliving said. “No. 2, there’s not a player alive that wants less. There’s nobody that comes into you and says, ‘Play me less, I think I’ve got too much responsibility.’ So now it’s an opportunity for them to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to grab a hold of it.”’
Even before Giordano’s injury, Treliving pointed out that his team was never so solely dependent on one player that others could justify having an off-night.
“We need everybody,” Treliving said.
With 13 games left going into Calgary’s home game against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, the Flames sat in third place in the Pacific Division with 81 points. The team has impressed many hockey observers by staying in the playoff hunt over the last two weeks without Giordano.
Still, Treliving doesn’t see making the playoffs as a bonus, even given the youth of his team and Giordano’s injury.
“We don’t look at this as saying, ‘Aw, shucks, we won’t be disappointed,”’ he said. “The guys aren’t just saying, ‘Hey, whatever happens, happens.’ You’re invested. You’ve put a lot in physically, emotionally. There’s one goal here for this team right now and that’s to get in, and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can do that.”