Since returning from a long COVID related lay off, the Calgary Flames have had mixed results. After starting 2–0–0 post-break, they’ve now dropped two straight against tougher opponents and have one game left before concluding their road trip. Some clear issues have arisen in their losses.
Right after the pause however the Flames went to Seattle and beat the Kraken and their former captain Mark Giordano 6–4 to add more misery to a rough first season for the Kraken. The NHL’s newest team currently sits with an ugly 10–19–4 record and rank 29th in the NHL. Any hope of the team repeating the magical run by Vegas in their first season is long gone.
That opens the door to a big question. Do the Kraken become sellers leading up to the deadline? The team was projected to compete right away, but that clearly hasn’t been the case. Their biggest potential trade chip? The aforementioned Giordano.
Last week, Salim Valji of TSN theorized that the organization would certainly be interested in bringing back their former captain if he became available.
Does it make sense though? Let’s break it down.
Calgary’s bottom pairing is an issue
Now at first it could be questioned why the team needs another top-four defenceman when they already have four very solid ones. The Flames are very steady on defence when it comes to the top four—the spot that Giordano typically plays. With the surprising emergence of Oliver Kylington, the Flames have one of the better top fours in the entire league.
That said, it’s a completely different story when it comes to the bottom pairing. While their top four is a strength, the bottom pairing is a major weakness. The duo of Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov have been a disaster as of late after their surprisingly solid start to the season.
When looking at goals above replacement, Gudbranson and Zadorov have by far been the two weakest defenders on the team and it’s not even close.
While Zadorov at the very least has provided some decent defence, Gudbranson has really struggled on the defensive side of the puck. He of course brings nothing offensively either so at this point he’s hurting the team and offering nothing of value outside of being a decent option on the penalty kill.
Adding Giordano to the lineup would bump someone from the top four, or Giordano himself onto the third pairing. This would remove Gudbranson from the lineup turning the third pairing into a strength instead of a weakness.
How has Giordano fared this season and would he truly provide a boost and upgrade to the Flames defence? Let’s take a look.
Giordano would be an upgrade
Despite the Seattle Kraken getting off to a brutal start in their first season, Giordano has still put up some okay numbers across the board.
First let’s take a look at his offensive production so far this season
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It’s no secret that Giordano’s offensive game has fallen off the past couple seasons. We saw it last year when he was on pace for just 38 points in a full season, his lowest point pace since the 2012–13 season. His offensive decline has continued this season as he is currently producing at just a 34 point pace through 27 games played.
It is worth noting when looking at his league ranks that he was forced to miss six games due to COVID. As well his current situation isn’t exactly ideal either as the Kraken currently rank 23rd in the NHL for GF/G.
That said he still ranks right around the top 50 for shots, power play points and goals, meaning his production in those areas has still been solid especially considering he missed six games. His 11 points would rank fourth on the Flames for defencemen, while his four goals would be tied for first with Oliver Kylington. His 55 shots would rank third behind Kylington and Noah Hanifin.
The Flames don’t have a ton of offensive talent on the back-end, so Giordano would certainly be one of their best defenders offensively if he were to join the team.
Next up let’s take a look at his underlying numbers so far this season. All stats are 5v5, score-and-venue-adjusted courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com. Only defencemen with at least 200 minutes TOI were considered.
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It’s been a very uncharacteristic year for Giordano when it comes to his underlying numbers. Typically an elite player analytically, Giordano has struggled to put up the same level of numbers this season as he had previously in his career.
His CF% is below 50% for the first time since the 2014–15 season and would be the fourth lowest of his career, while his his xGF% of 51.42 would be the lowest he’s posted since the 2015–16 season. His xGF/60 of 2.05 would also be his lowest total since the 2014–15 season, and again the fourth lowest of his entire career.
A dip was coming eventually for Giordano who could only stave off father time for so long, however it hasn’t been all gloom and doom for the 38-year-old. It is worth noting that his HDCF% of 59.92% is still very solid and would rank tied for first on the Flames among defencemen with Chris Tanev.
He also leads all Kraken defencemen in positive xGAR so far this season.
In particular his defensive underlying metrics have been very solid. His EVD GAR of two ranks first on the Kraken by a wide margin. While his offence has floundered, his defensive game has still been strong. He sits just outside the top 10 among defencemen in the entire NHL for xGA/60 at 1.94. That number would also rank first on the Flames among defencemen.
If we look at his regularised adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) chart courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com, it tells a pretty clear story that backs up what we’ve been talking about. Giordano has struggled to produce chances offensively, but has still been rock solid at preventing goals against.
All said Giordano has been decent albeit not great so far this season. His offence has continued to trend downwards, however at the very least he is still scoring goals at a decent rate. Perhaps most importantly, his defensive impacts have been solid at even strength so he does still bring some solid value on the defensive side of the puck.
So where could he potentially fit in the lineup? Let’s take a look.
An elite defence group
The Flames already have one of the better defence groups in the NHL, with the bottom pairing being the only thing holding them back from being in the conversation as the top group in the league. With the addition of Giordano, the team would undoubtedly possess one of the top five defensive groups in the league, and one that would be a force under Darryl Sutter.
So how could they line up with Giordano? Well that’s where it gets tricky, and for good reason. Simply put the Flames’ top four has been exceptional this year. Tanev and Kylington have formed a borderline elite pairing, while Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson have similarly been very solid. Breaking up the chemistry of those two pairs could be a bad idea.
As well Giordano’s numbers have certainly fallen off this season, so he may be best used in a more sheltered role unlike the number one role he is currently playing in Seattle. Luckily the Flames worst current defenceman in Gudbranson plays the same side as Giordano, so a swap is easy to make.
Here’s how I would line up if Giordano is brought back.
Noah Hanifin – Rasmus Andersson
Chris Tanev – Oliver Kylington
Nikita Zadorov – Mark Giordano
Moving Giordano into a more sheltered third pairing role seems like the best fit to me. Adding an actual capable defender beside Zadorov turns the third pair into a legitimate shutdown pairing, something that Sutter clearly wants it to be.
It also allows Giordano to play less at 5v5, leaving him fresher for special teams duties on the team’s power play and penalty kill where he will no doubt play a major role.
How to get it done?
This is where it gets iffy for me. Given Giordano’s history and status around the league as a captain and former Norris winner, he will no doubt fetch a big return for Seattle even as a rental. If he were to be made available, he’d almost certainly be the best rental defenceman available on the market and there would be plenty of playoff teams lining up for his services.
The reported ask from Seattle back in the summer to not take Giordano in the expansion draft was a first-round pick along with a third-round pick. You’d have to think the Kraken will still want at minimum a first-round pick for their captain if they were to move him before the deadline. Given what we’ve seen in past years at the deadline, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them get that. Just last year a much worse David Savard went for a first-round pick.
Another factor is of course how to make the money work. Giordano currently makes $6.75 million against the cap, certainly not an insignificant number. Seattle would almost certainly retain 50% of that given he’s a rental, however even at $3.375 million it would still require the Flames to make further moves to fit him under the cap.
One solution would be for the Kraken to potentially take back a contract like Gudbranson who makes $1.95 million. Both players are upcoming free agents so the swap is nothing more than a move to make the money work.
Another solution would be a three-way deal where the Flames and Kraken involve a third team to retain another 25% of Giordano’s salary before sending him to Calgary, similar to how Tampa Bay acquired Savard last season. However, this would cost the Flames an extra draft pick.
Acquiring Giordano at 25% of his current cap hit, or just $1.68 million would make it much easier for the team to make the money work, and would also leave more wiggle room to potentially acquire a forward as well.
Should the Flames do it?
All said, I see the intrigue with bringing back Giordano. He’s a franchise legend, beloved by the fans and the city, and most importantly he’d make the team better. That said, the acquisition cost won’t be cheap, and making the money work would take some creativity.
I think it all depends on where the Flames stand come the deadline in March. If the team is locked into a top playoff spot and feels like it has a real shot at making a deep run, giving up a first-round pick becomes more palatable.
However given how strong the top four has been thus far, going out and using a mid round pick on a bottom pairing defenceman to improve the third pair may make more sense cost wise. Given the Flames’ complete lack of depth scoring, the team would most likely be better off using their first-round pick to acquire forward help in the form of a top-six winger.
There’s also the fact that Giordano simply isn’t the player he once was. At 38 years old, he’s starting his decline and paying a first round pick for potentially only a couple months of him is most likely an overpay at this point, even if he still does bring some solid value to the table.
Sure it would be great to see him back in the flaming C, but overpaying for sentimental reasons is never smart asset management especially when the team has bigger needs than another top-four defenceman.
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