Calgary Flames

Evaluating the Calgary Flames’ 2021 NHL expansion draft protection list

It’s finally time. After what feels like eons of build up, the Seattle Kraken expansion draft has arrived. A roster freeze is now in effect, and protection lists have been submitted, approved by the league, and released to the public.

The Calgary Flames’ list is very much what was expected. Unable to pull the trigger on a deal ahead of the roster freeze despite his best efforts, general manager Brad Treliving was left with really only one difficult decision. Here is the team’s final protected list, with them opting to protect seven forwards and three defensemen, of course with one goaltender as well:

The situation in the Flames’ goal

In goal, the decision was a no-brainer. It would have been essentially unimaginable to ask Markstrom to waive his no-move clause to instead protect a minor league talent like Tyler Parsons or a fringe NHLer like Louis Domingue. Just one year into a massive $36 million contract, Markstrom is in Calgary for the long haul.

No other goalies in the organization are eligible for expansion either. So, in the easiest position to decide on, the organization made the right call.

Flames forwards being protected and exposed

Like the goalies, the decisions on the forward group were not very difficult. With the various rumoured deals “in the air” not coming to fruition, the team didn’t have to make any shocking decisions up front. Core players like Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Andrew Mangiapane were no-doubters. Dillon Dube, as a young up and comer, is far too valuable to lose for nothing and was protected.

For Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund, there were question marks only because of salary. With rumours floating around that the team was looking to move Monahan, there was perhaps a slight chance they would survey the market, find his salary made him not enticing to other teams, and risk exposure.

Clearly, that was not the case. Monahan is protected, as he should be, and so is Backlund. Part of the reason for this is that the back end player lost may clear up cap space for the team anyway.

That leaves plenty of forwards available for Seattle, but only a few they may seriously consider taking:

Most of these players are either career minor leaguers or unrestricted free agents. One of them, Nordstrom, has actually already signed to play in the KHL next year. All in all, it’s not a very inspiring group for the Kraken to choose from.

Glenn Gawdin and Matthew Phillips are probably the two most enticing options for Seattle among the available forwards. Both young guys, Phillips in particular has the potential to make it in the NHL one day. Still, there is no clear pick for Seattle here as Phillips’ size may prevent him from becoming a full time NHLer.

Milan Lucic could also be considered to bring a veteran presence to a new franchise, but his cap hit likely deters them entirely. Ron Francis, the general manger of the Kraken, has made it clear he sees salary cap space as incredibly important. That leaves Derek Ryan as a potential free agent to negotiate with in their exclusive window.

The Flames did well to protect their most valuable assets up front, making it far more likely that the Kraken will choose from the available defensemen.

The Flames defense conundrum

Here is where things get difficult for Calgary. Having protected all their core forwards, they can only protect three defensemen.

Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson—two young defenseman on relatively team-friendly deals—were locks from the start. To expose players under the age of 25 capable of playing top-four minutes would have made no sense. That left the team with an uncomfortable choice between a franchise icon in Giordano and newcomer Chris Tanev.

Both Giordano and Tanev played massive minutes for the team last season. In fact, they were first and second on the team in time on ice. Either player would be a huge loss. But, at the end of the day, Giordano is 38 years old, and his best days are behind him. Tanev isn’t exactly youthful, but he had a resurgent season at the age of 31 and is certain to have more left in the tank than Giordano.

Because of this, the team elected to expose Giordano. Among the available Flames defensemen, he’s clearly the best choice for Seattle:

Despite his age, he is still capable of playing at a high level. And, with only one year left on his deal, the Kraken could move him at some point before the next trade deadline for other assets. A member of the Flames organization since 2005, it will be hard to see Giordano leave if he is selected, but it’s the right call to protect younger assets.

Sometimes hockey is a tough business, and this is one of those times. However, it’s not a sure thing Giordano is selected.

Another option, if the Kraken want to go with a younger team, is Oliver Kylington. Never given much opportunity in Calgary, he is a smooth skater and is only 24 years old. With a number of big name defensemen available for the Kraken, they may skip over Giordano and his $6.75 million contract altogether to keep their cap hit down.

Key takeaways from the Flames protection list

The first key takeaway is that overall the Flames did exactly what was expected of them—and that’s not a bad thing. Their protected list exposes few non-UFA NHL players, and, aside from Giordano, the ones who are exposed shouldn’t be very interesting for the Kraken. The team avoided overthinking the decision and potentially regretting exposing Chris Tanev.

If the team pulled the trigger on a Giordano trade prior to the roster freeze they would be in a much better position than they are, but having missed that opportunity, they did the best they could to protect the players they should.

The next takeaway is that it’s never going to be a perfect list, and while it feels like a failure on some level to expose the captain and heart of the team, it’s a tough business, and the team did well with this protection list.

The last takeaways are a two-in-one. First, that teams can still make side deals with the Kraken to protect players, or to have them select specific players, and second, that it’s still no guarantee they take Giordano, with or without a deal. It seems the most likely option, but there is a real chance the Kraken opt to give someone younger like Kylington or Phillips a chance instead.

If the Kraken do elect to take Giordano, it will signal the start of a new era in Calgary. If not, it will allow the team to maintain very much the same core as they have the last several years. Either way, it’s an exciting and nerve-wracking time to be a Flames fan.

Luckily, the suspense ends soon as the expansion draft results will be announced live at 6 PM MST on Wednesday July 21, 2021. Hopefully, by the time the draft is over, there isn’t a new contender in the Pacific Division for the Flames to compete with. However, based on the protected player lists from all 30 teams, Seattle might have a good shot at building a fairly strong team right off the bat. We’ll see how it all goes down in just a few short days.

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