Mark Giordano has 29 points in 29 games this season. ©2014, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Flames captain Mark Giordano quietly one of NHL’s best defensemen

BUFFALO – Seven years ago, Mark Giordano bolted from North America, all the way to the Russian KHL. Just 55 games into his NHL career, the Calgary Flames defenseman wanted more playing time and money.

“I didn’t really know if I’d ever come back,” Giordano said this afternoon inside the First Niagara Center. “I thought I could be a good player in Europe for a long time if I had to.”

Following one season with Moscow Dynamo, Giordano rejoined the Flames in 2008, the start of his stunning transformation.

“Looking back now, it was a bit of a risky decision,” Giordano said about going to Europe. “But I think I played a lot of minutes, a bigger ice surface. I think it helped my game, for sure.”

These days, the undrafted 31-year-old might be the NHL’s best defenseman. Entering tonight’s game against the Sabres, he has seven goals, 29 points and a plus-16 rating in 29 games for the upstart Flames. He has at least one point in 23 contests.

Giordano is even generating Norris Trophy buzz.

What has happened to Calgary’s captain?

“You don’t really find what you need for that patience in your own zone until you’ve played a bunch of games,” Giordano said. “It took me a bit longer than most, but every year I just tried to get better and more comfortable, especially in my own zone.”

Flames coach Bob Hartley believes Giordano’s development has been “a constant progression.” Giordano had 43 points four years ago and 47 points last season.

“I’ve seen this guy in the gym every day, this guy in practice, I’ve seen this guy prepare,” Hartley said. “There’s basically no flaws in his preparation and in his game and his commitment. So you can only go up when you’re doing every part of this game right.

“The unfortunate thing of this is fans don’t get a chance to witness what we see from Gio on a day-to-day basis. … It’s a well-deserved recognition that he’s getting. He’s our captain. He’s been great for us.”

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