One key event that will affect how the Calgary Flames retool in the offseason will be the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Depending on how the Seattle Kraken optimise their player selection process, the Flames might be in line to lose a bigger impact player than expected, unless the two teams can work out a deal. We took a look at which potential player lost to the draft would hurt the Flames the most heading into the 2021-22 season. We asked, you answered.
Calgary has a lot to lose
The Flames are in a weird spot. They collectively underperformed as a whole team, which led to them being sellers at the trade deadline, yet after that they came tantalisingly close to eking it into the last playoff spot with a highly impressive fourth quarter. There are many question marks surrounding this team and while retooling is imminent, there will be a lot to consider when the expansion draft rolls around.
There are different players that the Kraken will look at, and being one of the most data-driven offices, they’ll have their eyes on the Flames with strong underlying value. That’s where the problem comes in for the Flames. Between balancing age, contractions, and on-ice impact, there are different factors that the Kraken can look at and any pick they make could leave a larger gap than expected.
To keep the discussion a bit more focused, we looked at which player’s absence would hurt the Flames the most in the upcoming 2021-22 NHL season. The four players of interest were Mark Giordano, Derek Ryan, Oliver Kylington, and Matthew Phillips. There’s reasonable expectations that the Flames will expose their long-time captain to protect Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, and Chris Tanev.
So why were these the four players where their absence would hurt the Flames the most? Let’s break down and compare them all.
Giordano’s impact is still impressive
There was much concern at the start of the season that time had caught up to Giordano, but the superhuman athlete in him widened the gap between himself and Father Time throughout the season. As the year went on, Giordano got better and he actually ended the season as one of the Flames’ best players, proving doubters and skeptics wrong—he’s still got it.
The 37-year-old defenceman was a net positive player in almost every aspect of his game, as highlighted by Evolving-Hockey‘s Goals Above Replacement model (shared by @BabyIginla on Twitter). Realistically, there’s still a very good chance that Giordano will still be a highly effective player for the Flames for at least another year. Unless his on-ice performance falls off a cliff, he’ll still be a top-four calibre defender.
Here are stats from NaturalStatTrick.com at 5v5, score-and-venue adjusted. Giordano’s rank among Flames defencemen with at least 100 minutes at 5v5 is included for additional context. The 100 minute cutoff, while low, was chosen to at least still include Kylington into the mix, as he logged 101:25 at 5v5.
|Rank versus Flames Defence||6th||6th||2nd||2nd|
The thing about the Flames’ defence is that they collectively finished the season on a fairly high note. Among the eight defencemen with 100 5v5 minutes, they all at a positive CF%, with Andersson clocking in the lowest at virtually breakeven with 50.04%. In terms of expected goals for, seven of the eight were positive as only Andersson was underwater in this regard.
However, for goals for and high-danger goals for, the Flames’ collective lack of offence really sunk them, as only Giordano and Tanev were really positive for both categories. Hanifin and Michael Stone both essentially broke even for goals for as well.
Long story short, Giordano’s impact for the Flames this past season started pretty badly, but he ended up being one of their most valuable against all age curves and against all odds. Seattle likely won’t want to be building a team around someone as old as Giordano, but they don’t have to. They can slot him in a smaller role and have a deep blueline instead.
Ryan’s one of the best depth players
Finish the above sentence, would you say “Ryan’s one of the best depth players” 1) on the Flames, or 2) in the league? If you said on the Flames, that’s a certainty. If you said in the league, then you’re in good company as there’s a strong case that Ryan really is that impactful of a third/fourth line player.
The Flames had 14 forwards reach the same 100 minute threshold applied to the defenders. Interestingly enough, another player just made the cutoff, this time with Dominik Simon. To be honest, Simon’s numbers are mostly inconsequential anyway, but he somehow managed to rank first at high-danger goals for percentage with a mark of 77.94% (small sample size alert).
|Rank versus Flames Forwards||1st||1st||1st||8th|
Looking at Ryan’s numbers at 5v5 SVA, he quietly put together a very strong season. He ranked first in several categories, incredibly with numbers north of 60%. Looking at all forwards in the NHL with at least 100 5v5 minutes, he ranked 13th in CF%, 14th in xGF, 55th in GF%, and 273rd in HDGF%.
There’s quite a bit of a spread in the ranking,s but his extremely high rank in corsi and expected goals are the notable ones here, while his goals for ranking isn’t bad either. Seattle could easily look to add Ryan to their roster. He could play the same depth role and make their bottom six pretty good, or be promoted to a larger role if necessary.
A huge factor in picking him as well would be that he’s from Spokane, Washington. Just like how Deryk Engelland got his homecoming selection to go to the Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary could potentially go two for two in terms for having the two expansion drafts connect to personal storylines beyond just on-ice performances.
Kylington’s a big question mark for both teams
Kylington has been a player that’s drawn the short end of the stick during his time with the Flames. Even in a season where he should have had way more playing time, logging just over 100 5v5 minutes while Nikita Nesterov and Stone had over 500 and nearly 300 minutes, respectively, makes for a bit of a disappointment for the young Swede.
His impact on the Flames going into the next season isn’t really known given his limited minutes. Year by year, he’s tried to take steps to elevate his game, yet he hasn’t been able to secure a permanent spot on the roster.
|Rank versus Flames Defence||1st||5th||7th||8th|
While he actually had the best corsi percentage among Flames defencemen as well as remained positive on the expected goals front, the actual goals against him were not good. He had awful numbers for goals for and high-danger goals for, and that alone is enough to connect the dots as to why he didn’t get as much playing time as expected.
It’s a small sample size to work with, but Kylington stumbled. He could be the type of player that could use a fresh start, but for now, he’s locking himself into the replacement level player, much to everyone’s disappointment. Seattle would be gambling on his usage being poor with the Flames, but he’d be a bit of a prospect reclamation project if they were to select him.
For the young forward prospect, the Flames gave him his NHL debut in the last game of the regular season. There were a lot of frustrated fans barking up the wrong Tree (get it, Treliving… Tree…) as to why the Flames weren’t giving their prospects valuable playing time to close out a meaningless season. For Phillips, the reason was that if he had a strong showing, there’d be a high risk of losing him if he caught the Kraken’s attention.
Any other season and Phillips likely would have saw at least a handful of games, but the expansion draft really got in the way of this, and as much as it unfavourable for literally everyone, the Flames really did what they did to try to keep him as a Calgary Flame come next season.
Looking at his development, 2021-22 could be his year in the prospect roadmap, having played three seasons with the Stockton Heat now. If the Flames end up losing Ryan or another forward, Phillips would be a prime candidate to get the promotion into the main roster.
If the Kraken select him, it’s not going to hurt the Flames’ on-ice product immediately in the upcoming season, but it’s going to sting quite a lot in terms of their prospects cupboard. Not to mention the emotional investment most people have put into Phillips’ development path.
Giordano’s departure would hurt the most
As voted by Twitter, if the Kraken select Giordano, it’d hurt the Flames the most. I’m inclined to agree. His on-ice impacts are genuinely still too good to give up on, and the Flames need him for at least another season as they sort out their defensive corps. Who knows how Tanev and Hanifin will be after both recovering from their injuries either.
That being said, with the strong connection that Ryan already has to the Kraken, if he’s selected, the Flames’ forward depth takes a big hit too. At the end of the day, the expansion draft is just business. The Flames will do what they think is best for the team, and might even try to make a deal with the Kraken to take a different player entirely as to keep their core players in tact.
We’ll see how the Flames navigate the expansion draft soon enough. Losing any player to the selection draft will sting, but at least the sting is shared by 29 other teams too.
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images