Calgary Flames

Looking back at captains left unprotected in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft

The Calgary Flames are in an interesting predicament going into the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft: torn between exposing the team’s best defenceman this season in Chris Tanev or leaving their captain and stalwart Mark Giordano available. And while there are a number of intangibles for protecting the latter, logic and reason say their captain will be available for the Kraken to select from.

There are many reasons for and against exposing either of Tanev or Giordano, but why this is so complicated has to do from a Flames culture and locker room perspective as well. Giordano is the face of the organization, and the leader of the team both on the ice and in the community. And while his play has declined with age, he clearly is still very good for the team.

But hockey is a business and tough decisions have to be made. Although Giordano is the longest serving Flame, there is a real sense that he will be the one exposed by the Flames come July 21. Looking back at the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft for the Vegas Golden Knights, it is rare for captains to be exposed. Only four were left unprotected in the last draft, and none retained their letter subsequently. Let’s break it all down:

Shane Doan – Arizona Coyotes

A former teammate of Flames legend Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan was a lifer with the Arizona Coyotes, playing all 19 of his seasons with the club. However, going into the expansion draft in 2017, the Coyotes opted not to re-sign the then 40-year-old captain. After not being selected by Vegas, Doan decided to retire from professional hockey, having played over 1,500 total games.

Brian Gionta – Buffalo Sabres

Similar to Doan, Brian Gionta was an aging captain of a marginal team and was on an expiring contract going into the expansion draft. However, unlike Doan, Gionta had only been in Buffalo for three seasons, having previously been the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. After acquiring Jason Pominville just prior to the draft, the Sabres left their captain Gionta—who was a pending unrestricted free agent—exposed.

Naturally, the Golden Knights passed on him, and instead selected William Carrier. Gionta did not sign another contract until after the 2018 Olympics, where he was the captain of Team USA. After a short 20 game contract to close out the season with the Boston Bruins, Gionta hung up his skates for good.

Derek MacKenzie – Florida Panthers

Derek MacKenzie is probably the most interesting name on this list. Signed as a UFA to a three-year deal in 2014, Mackenzie became the captain of the Panthers in the final year at the beginning of the 2016–17 season. While he was a lot of things, MacKenzie was not a points-producer, putting up 125 over the course of his career. As a result, it was not a big risk leaving him unprotected in expansion. Florida famously lost both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a fourth-round pick.

However, after the expansion draft, Florida removed Mackenzie’s captaincy and gave it to Alexander Barkov instead. The former captain would go on to play 75 games in 2017–18 and just one game the following season before calling it a career.

Mike Fisher – Nashville Predators

Drafted by the Ottawa Senators, Mike Fisher was traded to the Predators in 2011 for a first- and second-round pick. This allowed him to be closer to his wife, Carrie Underwood, but also ended up being where he had his greatest success. After Nashville traded their former captain Shea Weber to Montreal, the organization named Fisher their captain in 2016.

An unrestricted free agent heading into the expansion draft however, Fisher was left unprotected. After not being selected, he officially retired from the NHL. And while he did briefly come out of retirement to help Nashville in one final playoff run, Fisher subsequently retired following their elimination in the second round in 2017–18.

What does it mean for Giordano?

All four captains left exposed in the Vegas Expansion were around the same age as Giordano is currently. The Flames’ captain is 37, while Doan, Gionta, MacKenzie, and Fisher were 41, 38, 36 and 37, respectively. The big difference is in contract, with three of the four former captains pending UFAs. The only player still under contract was MacKenzie who had one year remaining at $1.375 million per season, where he was coming off of a 16 point season.

With due respect to MacKenzie, he is not a comparable to the Flames’ captain, who is two year’s removed from winning the Norris Trophy and who is coming off of a season that saw a slow start with a strong finish with 26 points in 56 games. The caveat is that Giordano still has one more season under contract that pays him $6.75 million dollars.

Love him or hate him, Giordano is still a highly effective NHL defenceman. He has clearly taken a step back in his play from last season, but is still a strong option on the backend of any team. However, leaving him exposed in this year’s expansion draft would be new territory. No captain of his calibre was available for Vegas, and this time around it may be unlikely that any other NHL captain who is still under contract will be exposed this year either.

Currently, twelve NHL Captains have a full no-movement clause, and of the 15 remaining captains eligible for expansion (The Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, and Columbus Blue Jackets do not have a captain, and the Vegas Golden Knights are exempt from the expansion draft), most are very unlikely to leave their captain exposed.

The only other teams who may leave their captains exposed are the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks. Ovechkin have made it very clear that he will remain with the team, refusing to sign anywhere else until he retires. With him being a pending UFA, it probably doesn’t make sense for Seattle to pick him knowing he will go back to sign in Washington.

There is a good chance that the Ducks will leave their captain Ryan Getzlaf exposed, who’s also on the decline with a poor season this year in which he put up just 17 points in 48 games. However, he is a pending UFA just like Ovechkin. Because both are pending UFAs, it is hard to compare them to Giordano’s situation.

At the end of the day, hockey is a business and teams have to do what is right for them. Leaving Giordano exposed on paper seems like the way that they will go, but this is an unprecedented move. He will likely be the only captain under contract to be exposed this year, and if left exposed, there is a good chance that the Kraken make him their pick barring any negotiations between Brad Treliving and Ron Francis.

Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

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