SEATTLE — The Toronto Maple Leafs were talking about it in the steam room: Mark Giordano will break a record Sunday night.
Should they stop the clock?
Hop the boards and swarm the man in jubilation?
Will Climate Pledge Arena burst into standing ovation and interrupt the flow of the game the way “Gio” has abruptly brought a conclusion to 2,045 scoring attempts?
“Maybe we’ll get him a golden shin pad or something,” smiles Morgan Rielly, wryly.
Giordano tied Kris Russell for the all-time NHL record* for shot blocks Friday with 2,044 and will no doubt eclipse the mark set by his friend and former teammate on the Maple Leafs’ current road trip.
Let’s get the caveat out of the way from the jump. The NHL only began tabulating shot blocks regularly and officially in 2005-06, so the 39-year-old Giordano’s tenure has placed him in prime position to assume the title of Block King.
“Gio is just a guy that plays the game hard, wears his heart on his sleeve, just competes and does whatever he can for the team to have success,” captain John Tavares says. “He plays those tough minutes.”
Strictly speaking, there is a great chance Zdeno Chara has thrown his frame in front of more flying pucks. Perhaps Chris Pronger or Brad Park or Newsy Lalonde sacrificed the shin more often than Giordano too, but no researcher has dug that deep. So, here we are.
Regardless of the legitimacy of Giordano’s claim to the throne of forever Block King, the man deserves his props for placing his body in the line of fire as often as he does.
Tavares, a fellow Toronto native, wonders if Giordano’s willingness to sacrifice his limbs stems from the defenceman’s journey to the show.
The only draft Giordano knew was the Seattle expansion one. He’s always been underrated, always overachieved. Everything he’s accomplished, from big-league respect to the Norris Trophy, has been hard to earn.
That’s why you won’t uncover an NHLer who speaks ill of the man.
“The second he came in our locker room, I think he just felt at home,” says Auston Matthews, who has dubbed Giordano the biggest jokester in the Maple Leafs room.
The veteran keeps the mood light but plays a heavy brand of hockey.
“Such a heart-and-soul guy,” rival-turned-teammate Ryan O’Reilly says. “He does everything.”
Giordano has an offensive flair, no doubt, but since he was traded to and re-signed by Toronto (at a rare hometown discount) the elder skatesman has happily handed power-play minutes to the youngsters and embraced his penalty-killing and shutdown role.
You don’t eat 2,000-plus pucks without routinely hopping over the boards in 4-on-5 situations and raising your hand for the tough assignments.
Fun fact: Giordano, pushing 40, is the only Leafs defenceman who has played every game this season.
Straight up, he’s a salary-cap steal.
“I’ve always tried to take a lot of pride in defending,” Giordano says. “Nobody likes getting scored on or pulling the puck out of your net. And I think any time you can help eliminate that by blocking shots and making the right play, try to do that.
“I don’t know if it has anything to do with the way I came in. But I’ve always had that mentality, for sure.”
Giordano chuckles when asked how much he’s been in contact with the defenceman he’ll leapfrog on the list, former Calgary Flames teammate Russell.
“I haven’t called Rusty yet or texted him, but I will soon. Just waiting to get a few more blocks, and then I got some ammo on him,” Giordano says.
“You remember the ones that hit you. I got a couple up high that cut you up and stuff like that.
“The pants and shin pads are the ones you like the most. They don’t hurt at all. Up high are the ones you really worry about.”
The most painful puck Giordano intercepted came off the stick of Mathieu Schneider — a full windup in a playoff game against the Detroit Red Wings. The slapped rubber smashed Giordano in the side of his head while was trying to clear another Wing from the crease. He crumpled like yesterday’s newspaper.
“I got a pretty good scar from it. That one hurt. Took me down for a bit. So, that’s one that really sticks out as not being one that was pleasant,” Giordano smiles.
“It’s an instinct thing. I think high-danger chances, if you’re there and you’re able to rush the guy’s shot, I think you want to try and do that. But it’s a fine line. It’s a really fine line.
“Trust me, I’ve tipped in my fair share (into my own net) over the years that you’re not proud of. But most goalies will tell you like they’d rather you try for the block. Because nine times out of 10, it doesn’t tip in the net.”
Like Calgary and Seattle’s goaltenders before him, Giordano receives rave reviews from Toronto’s Ilya Samsonov, who perks up whenever the cycle stuffer’s name is brought up.
“He’s played 2,000 games,” Samsonov teases. “He’s old… I’m so happy to play with him.”
Speaking of old and accomplished, Giordano’s shin pads — not golden yet — are more than 10 years old. He simply upgrades the sweat-soaked lining on occasion but keeps the abused plastic. They’re thinner and more comfortable than modern editions.
“I’ve been using these for a long, long time. I can’t see myself switching right at the end. So, I’ll keep using them for sure,” Giordano chuckles.
“A little bit old-school, but I like the feel of them. And I don’t really like the feel of all the new ones coming out. So, I’ll keep these ones.”
One equipment adjustment Giordano has made is the addition of molded plastic shot-blockers to his skates.
He was resistant to the technology at first. But pain talks.
“I had an injury that sort of put me over the top. I broke my ankle off just, like, a nothing wrist shot coming down the wing. So that was the one that sort of put me over that top. I didn’t like the way they felt (at first),” Giordano says.
“But they’ve actually made them really nice now, where they mold to your skate. Now, I feel way more comfortable wearing them than not wearing them.”
Giordano will record his 2,045th shot block Sunday, his 5.06 blocks per 60 minutes keeping pace ahead of the next active masochist, Marc-Edouard Vlasic (2,005 shot blocks).
Maybe the clock will stop like an interrupted point shot.
Maybe his teammates will flood the ice in appreciation.
But definitely, asterisk or not, Giordano’s long run of bruises and sacrifice deserves recognition.
One-Timers: Matt Murray practised in full Saturday, a first since he pulled up lame with an aggravated ankle injury during a January warmup. “It got to a point where I thought I’d be hurting the team, being in there,” Murray told reporters Saturday. “I’m not going to be out there if I’m not feeling right.”… Eighth defenceman Jordie Benn was placed on waivers Saturday. Benn is on a one-year, league-minimum salary of $750,000. He has played 12 games for the Maple Leafs and four for the AHL Toronto Marlies on a conditioning loan…. After sitting three games due to a minor upper-body injury, Rasmus Sandin should be good to go in Seattle…. Matthews and Mitchell Marner are reuniting because, according to Sheldon Keefe, the coach wants to get a peek at Ryan O’Reilly and William Nylander on the same line.
Maple Leafs projected lines versus Seattle Kraken on Sunday
Bunting – Matthews – Marner
Tavares – O’Reilly – Nylander
Engvall – Kämpf – Järnkrok
Aston-Reese – Acciari – Kerfoot
Rielly – Brodie
Giordano – Liljegren
Sandin – Holl