CALGARY — Considerable grumbling emanated from Flames Nation when defenceman Mark Giordano was passed over for the NHL all-star game.
The snub could turn out to be an advantage for the Flames.
Calgary’s captain is compiling a season worthy of a Norris Trophy while his team (30-13-4) stakes a claim in the Western Conference penthouse.
Giordano, 35, is averaging almost 25 minutes per game against opposing team’s top lines. He’s also averaging over a point per game for an NHL-topping plus-minus of plus-36.
He’s considered the best player in the Pacific Division not participating in the NHL all-star game Jan. 26 in San Jose, Calif.
The host Sharks have two defenceman — Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns — and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings filled the third available position on the blue-line.
Each division is limited to 11 players chosen mostly by NHL’s hockey operations, but with the fans voting in the last player.
Giordano was Calgary’s candidate for ”last man in” but Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl drew the most votes for the division’s final roster spot.
The all-star break plus the league-mandated bye equals eight days off for the Flames with the exception of winger Johnny Gaudreau and coach Bill Peters, who will be in San Jose.
Given Giordano’s age, workload and contributions, a physical and mental break for the captain could be a boon to a team tracking to have home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
“Is it an advantage? Well, yeah, sure it is,” Peters said Tuesday at Scotiabank Saddledome. “It doesn’t hurt right? There’s a positive in that for sure, but Gio is a keep-the-motor-running type guy too.
“He’ll really look after himself and he’ll probably be getting on the ice. We go right from the all-star break into our bye week. I’d be surprised if he’s not on the ice some of those days.”
Giordano, who participated in the 2015 and 2016 all-star games, said he’d go to San Jose if selected. But the captain sees a silver lining in getting passed over.
“You can look at this from both sides,” he said. “I think the rest is going to be really beneficial for me.
“But you also want your team to be well-represented in these events. We are with Johnny and Bill, but … it’s tough because of the format. There’s only three defencemen who go and the guys who went are top guys year in and year out.
“No complaints. I’ll gladly take the rest and spend some time with my family.”
The six-foot-one, 200-pound defender is playing some of the best hockey of his career. His nine goals and 38 assists in 45 games ties him for second among NHL defencemen.
Giordano was in the Norris Trophy conversation in 2014-15 when he suffered a season-ending torn bicep requiring surgery.
“If you’ve been watching the games recently, he’s been our best player,” Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk said.
“With what Gio’s been able to do recently, the tear he’s been on offensively, the minutes he plays and he plays against everybody’s top players every single night, plays penalty kill and tough minutes. He’s been unbelievable.”
Giordano has three goals and seven assists in his last seven games, including a three-point, plus-5 performance in Sunday’s 7-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Calgary topped the division and conference Tuesday with the Sharks (27-13-7) and Vegas Golden Knights (28-16-4) keeping the pressure on in the Pacific.
Those three teams had 10 or more points on the six jockeying for wild-card position.
“San Jose and Vegas, we’re all just winning. There’s no separation,” Peters said. “You might go to third place just because you’ve had two days without a game.
“When you’re playing those teams down below at the cut line for the wild card, they’re going to come in desperate. So there’s no easy nights.”
The Flames have made the playoffs twice in the last nine seasons — once as a wild-card team and the other as the division No. 3.
It’s been a while since Calgary sustained a lofty position in the standings.
“When you’re chasing, it wears on you every day. We’ve been in that spot before,” Giordano said. “You’re grinding and every game feels like you have to win.
“We’re in a position now where we’re in a good spot, first in our division, but there’s three teams really fighting for that division and we want it. It seems like San Jose and Vegas are winning every game. We’ll try to pile up the points as well.
“We still have a long way to go in the season. You want to get that big cushion if you can and then prepare for playoffs.”