SEATTLE — Mark Giordano was the first player on the ice when the Seattle Kraken opened their inaugural training camp Thursday, and when practice ended with a bag skate, guess who led his teammates?
Giordano, the defenseman who turns 38 on Oct. 3, the oldest player on the roster.
It did not go unnoticed.
It inspired the leader of the organization, Kraken president and CEO Tod Leiweke, who ran up to Giordano as he came off the ice to give him a hug and a pat on the back.
“Just awesome to see him out there skating that hard, man,” Leiweke said afterward. “I’m going to go work hard at my desk now.”
Giordano has seemed an obvious candidate to become the first captain of the Kraken since they selected him in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21. He was captain of the Calgary Flames the past eight seasons and won the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award in 2019-20.
We’ll see. He’s entering the last season of his contract. The Kraken are just getting started. Coach Dave Hakstol said Friday he and general manager Ron Francis have discussed naming a captain and have not made a decision.
“Ron and I will continue to talk about that as we go through training camp and make a final decision after,” Hakstol said.
But whatever happens, Giordano clearly will play a significant role with veterans like forwards Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz.
“Obviously in Calgary [the captaincy] was a huge, huge deal for me, my family,” Giordano said. “When an organization puts that trust in you, I think it means a lot. I don’t care what guys say about it not meaning a lot. It should mean a lot.
“But there’s a lot of different things going into it. We’re a brand-new team, there’s a lot of new faces, and I think as far as the coaches and management, they need to get to know us as players and as people before … Those are big decisions.
“For me, it’s not going to change anything either way. With a letter on my jersey or not, I’m going to try and help as much as I can on the ice and off the ice especially with our team.”
Leadership is especially important for the Kraken, an expansion team trying to build an identity of hard work and grit with a roster of players from across the League who need to bond into a team.
Giordano couldn’t have a better backstory in that context. An undrafted free agent, he went on to play 15 seasons for the Flames. In 2018-19, at 35, he won the Norris Trophy, which goes to the best defenseman in the NHL as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
He still takes nothing for granted, still pushes to improve and still burns for his first championship.
“Looking forward to being a good leader on this team, but in order to be a good leader, you have to play well, and you have to play big minutes in key situations,” Giordano said. “That’s when guys look up to you the most, when you’re a reliable part of the team. …
“It comes down to not having won and having that success in playoffs and going far and going on those deep runs. I don’t care who you are. You look around the League, there’s a ton of guys who are great players, and we’re all playing for that ultimate goal.”
Giordano was the captain in Calgary because of who he was; he wasn’t who he was because he was the captain. All he’s doing in Seattle is being himself. That’s all he has to do.
“We were extremely blessed to have ‘Gio’ be available to us,” goalie Chris Driedger said. “There’s not many leaders around the NHL with as much presence and just core natural leadership ability. … When young guys have questions, he’s super approachable, really nice guy, and just handles himself the right way with dignity and class.”
Jamie Oleksiak, Giordano’s defense partner through two days of camp, said: “His reputation kind of speaks for itself. His practice habits are great, and he’s moving really well. I think just in the bag skate [Thursday], he was leading the pack, so I think that’s just an example of how hard he works. He’s setting the pace for us and leading by example.”
Why did Giordano lead the pack in the bag skate?
“First off, every time you get out there, you’ve got to give obviously your all,” Giordano said. “For me, getting older, you want to be able to make sure that you’re in top shape, you can keep up obviously with all the young guys and the speed out there. But yeah, I think for me it’s just, mindset is, give it your all, and wherever you finish, you finish.”
Sounds like the mentality the Kraken need to have.