Mark Giordano, the Calgary Flames’ captain and just two years removed from winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman, has Flames fans divided.
Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson are the team’s top two young defenders, and heading into the expansion draft, Giordano was an automatic selection for the Flames’ third protection slot for defensemen. However, the emergence of Chris Tanev as one of the league’s best defensive defensemen and top right handed blueliner on the team has muddied the waters. Now, not only is there speculation that the Flames might choose to protect Tanev over Giordano, there’s a very good chance that actually does happen.
The reasons to expose Giordano
Giordano’s $6.75M cap hit disappearing without penalty and transitioning the captaincy to another player like Matthew Tkachuk could be the move this franchise needs to right the ship. It would satisfy the hunger to shake up the core without sacrificing any additional assets, and would free up a significant portion of the cap to further enhance the forward or defense group. It obviously hurts to lose your captain, but the core is shifting anyway and a changing of the guard might be just what the doctor ordered.
On the other side, the Seattle Kraken would be getting a cost controlled top pairing defender and a player who could immediately step in and be the first captain in Kraken history. Giordano is the perfect player to lead a group of misfits and castaways as he was undrafted player himself who grinded his way from a three way contract to the league’s best.
When you consider Giordano’s decline the past couple years, it seems like a pretty decent scenario for both parties. Seattle gets a great leader and mentor for their likely young roster, and if it doesn’t work out they could even trade him at the deadline for a good return. Win win… on paper. In reality, exposing Giordano is a much more loaded decision for the Flames.
Some scoff at the idea of loyalty, especially nowadays, but there is something to be said about Giordano being a Flame his entire career, being the second longest serving captain in franchise history, wining awards no Flames player has ever won before, and being a pillar in the community.
Casting Giordano to the side via exposing him in the expansion draft is a bit of a slap in the face. He’s given everything to this franchise and city and he deserves better than to be thrown onto a menu. What message does that send to current players and prospects? Does their loyalty to the franchise mean nothing? Will the team cast them aside too when it’s convenient for them?
On a business level, of course the answer would be yes. But on a human level, this could change the culture of the franchise and have a negative impact on the team down the road. If the franchise didn’t take care of one of their best of all time, this could affect the decision of free agents to sign with the Flames and draftees to sign long term extensions.
Is this far fetched? Maybe, but the risk is definitely there, and it’s something the Flames will need to weigh. If what many have said about the Flames’ having a culture issue is true, the way that they handle their longest tenured player will no doubt have an impact on that.
The bottom line is that Giordano deserves better. He’s served the team and city for many years and he should be treated with the dignity a franchise player deserves. Telling him to uproot his life now after all he’s done will be a tough pill to swallow, regardless of the business side of the sport.
Changing the room
Giordano has been a mentor and leader to many young defenders that have come through town over the years. Currently, he’s worked with Andersson, Juuso Valimaki, and Oliver Kylington, and the repercussions of losing Giordano could be felt for a long time.
You don’t have to look very far to see the impact that losing a leader in the room, especially on the back end, can do to a team. The Vancouver Canucks chose to let Tanev walk in free agency last year, and many pointed to that decision as a key reason why the Canucks underperformed this past season.
Team construction isn’t about putting the most talented players together in a room. It’s about putting the right group of people together so they can compete. Father Time may be coming for Giordano, but he’s still a very good top-four defenseman that can play both sides of special teams and pull an enormous amount of weight in the locker room. Losing him could have a ripple effect down the lineup, especially with a young defender like Andersson.
Even putting the mentorship angle aside, this scenario means the Flames will need to fill the captaincy with a new player. Tkachuk is the obvious choice, but if rumours are true and he doesn’t stay in Calgary long term, this could be absolutely disastrous for the franchise. Outside of Tkachuk, there is no natural choice for captain and this leadership void could set the team back even more. It could work out great and reignite the entire franchise, but there’s an equal chance things go the other way as well.
As anyone who has worked in a toxic environment will tell you, culture matters. You won’t perform at your best when you aren’t happy where you are or feel worried about your future. Regardless of whether one is paid $15 an hour or millions of dollars a year, that culture impacts whether one will reach their peak or not.
In the hockey world, a decision like this could impact future signings. If current players do not feel like their loyalty matters, they may want more assurances built into their contract like no-trade or no-movement clauses. It may also impact the Flames’ ability to sign UFAs, who worry about the culture of the team and whether they will enjoy the relationship with management. And while players do understand there is a business side to the game no doubt, there is also a human element to the sport that needs to be handled with care.
There is a reason teams spend millions on sports psychologists, team bonding retreats, and more because they understand that culture matters. When the 2018-19 Flames finished at the top of the Pacific Division, many spoke of the impact of the team’s trip to China to promote the game as a major reason for their success. It helped the players to bond and helped create a unified culture in the dressing room. Trips like this can have an impact positively, and making major moves like exposing your longest tenured player in expansion can have devastating impacts the other way. The way the Flames manage this expansion is going to be critical to their culture.
What if Seattle doesn’t take Giordano?
If Giordano gets exposed and the Kraken don’t select him, now another can of worms has opened. The Flames will have shown their team, their captain, and their fans exactly where they stand with Giordano. If Seattle passes, now you have a captain who likely feels a certain way, and with the talk of an already fragmented locker room, this would be something that could ruin the atmosphere and culture of the team.
They Flames would need to immediately repair that relationship and make sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Giordano and the team was okay with how things were handled. You want to assume players fully understand the business side of things, and they generally do, but they are still people, and in this scenario Giordano will almost certainly feel a bit upset with the team.
What is the best path forward?
At the end of the day, the franchise needs to do what is best for all, but taking care of their culture and the connection between management and players is a key to that. This decision is bigger than just exposing him or not, it is a values decision. Do the Flames value their captain and the impact that he has on their culture enough to expose him in the upcoming draft? Or is it time to shake-up their dressing room feel and expose him with the hopes that Seattle does in fact take him.
This is the type of decision that requires a plan. If the Flames choose to expose their captain, they need to ensure that Seattle either takes him or ensure that they do not. Because the worst thing that the Flames could do is not plan, leave Giordano exposed, and risk that the Kraken pass him over and select another.
Trust is built over time, while breaking trust takes just a moment. How the Flames handle this decision will be paramount to how they build their organization next season and beyond.