Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Calgary’s defensive standout of the 2021 season

It’s no secret that the Calgary Flames muddled in mediocrity on offence for essentially the entire year. There was no stretch of games where they elevated their offence and looked consistently dominant at all. However, in inverse of that was that their defensive game wasn’t that bad, but when a team struggles to score, good defence barely gets recognition. The defence all had varying performances throughout the year, but who was the most valuable? We asked, you answered.

Calgary’s best defender

Throughout the 2021 campaign, there were a few significant storylines from Calgary’s defensive corps. Ignoring the utilisation of Calgary’s third pairing skaters, consisting mainly of Juuso Valimaki, Nikita Nesterov, and Michael Stone, as well as the minutes given to Oliver Kylington and Connor Mackey, we’ll look only at the performances of the definitive top four.

For Calgary, these group of defencemen all logged the most minutes on the team, with Chris Tanev leading the way, followed by Rasmus Andersson, Mark Giordano, and Noah Hanifin. Had Hanifin not been injured, he’d have earned the team lead in this regard, as he trails Tanev by almost exactly 100 minutes in six less games.

So which of the four was most valuable to Calgary?

Giordano and Andersson’s disappointing seasons

At the beginning of the season, there was strong expectations that Giordano would take a step back in his play, while it’d be Andersson elevating his. However, while the former was true, the latter was not. While Giordano’s on-ice performance left much to be desired for the first half of the season, he actually rounded out his form quite nicely once Darryl Sutter‘s system started working for him. It wasn’t a great year for the captain, but it was more than passable.

On the other hand, Andersson hardly looked like the player everyone expected him to be, and his entire season was probably one he would want to improve upon. Something just wasn’t clicking for the defender in terms of performance, but he was still a heavily relied upon player to log major minutes, playing in all situations and logging the most power play minutes of any defenceman.

Neither of the two would be good options for being the most valuable defenceman, at least not this season.

Hanifin and Tanev were solid all around

Fortunately, the other two Flames were surprisingly good, almost so good that expecting downward trend compared to this season over the next few years wouldn’t be unreasonable. Both Hanifin and Tanev had excellent years for different reasons and both were bright spots in an otherwise bleak year on defence. It’d be nice to see these performances extend into more years than just this one, as that’d seriously help the Flames have one less thing to worry about.

Hanifin had the type of year where it seemed like the Flames were finally getting the player they traded for back when they acquired him and Elias Lindholm from the Carolina Hurricanes for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Adam Fox. Tanev’s contract was a bit of a question mark given his age, injury history, and highly defensive style of hockey, but that turned out to be exactly what the Flames needed and he has fortunately stayed healthy all season long.

Comparing the two players and the votes they got for most valuable defenceman, Tanev was the runaway winner, more than doubling Hanifin. The fact that they own essentially 95% of the votes (at the time of writing) between the two of them, that speaks volumes of what kind of seasons they each had.

Comparing the stats

To really see the differences in the years these four defencemen had, some telling 5v5 score-and-venue adjusted stats from are shown.

On-ice percentages

Christopher Tanev54.859.1359.1744.24
Noah Hanifin53.1450.5955.0445.71
Mark Giordano52.1253.0250.7847.24
Rasmus Andersson50.1548.4147.1846.12

The table is sorted by expected goals for, where Tanev has a huge lead over even his partner, but also among the Flames. He’s ranked second in this category with only Derek Ryan posting a better 60.02% xGF. What’s remarkable about Tanev being able to put up such a number is that among the top four defencemen, he had the lowest offensive zone starts too. While zone starts aren’t as exaggerated between defencemen as it is for forwards, it’s still highly commendable that the player seeing the hardest starts ends up posing some of the best numbers.

As mentioned earlier, Giordano was in fact able to turn his season around, and currently sits on the positive side of xGF too. Andersson is the only one still well underwater in this regard. Without a doubt, Tanev would easily be considered the best defender this season based on on-ice percentages.

On-ice rates

Christopher Tanev52.9143.639.282.151.480.672.191.510.68
Noah Hanifin54.5748.126.452.
Mark Giordano53.1148.784.332.
Rasmus Andersson54.3454.020.322.462.62-

Looking at rates, the table being similarly sorted by expected goal differential per sixty minutes. Each differential column is bolded, representing the difference between the rates of a stat for versus against for each player. In other words, CD/60 is simply CF/60 – CA/60.

Again, Tanev us the runaway leader in every category, whether it’s corsi, goals, or expected goals. While he has the lower offensive rates (to no one’s surprise), it’s his defensive rates that really shine. The difference between him and his defensive counterparts is almost too hard to believe, yet it is all true and it just goes to show just how good of a year he really had.

Tanev’s value is at an all-time high

So it’s fairly obvious that Tanev is the runaway most valuable defenceman. While Hanifin had a great year too, he’s still a distant second. With Tanev playing out the first season of his four-year contract, he’s seen one of the best rebound years of any defenceman on the wrong side of 30 years old.

He’s earned the alternate captaincy for a few games this year too, which attests to the value he also brings as a leader. There’s the ever-nagging question mark with Tanev however, where he needs to remain healthy in order to be worth the money, as his contract was not exactly one that inspired confidence at the time of signing.

However, one year in, it’s a consensus that Tanev has been a pleasant surprise for the Flames, being perhaps the team’s most consistent player on both ends of the ice. Had the Flames had better luck up front for scoring, Tanev’s value would have soared even more. His contributions were a large part as to why the Flames weren’t blown out in their losses more frequently.

Kudos to Tanev to the great season.

Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

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