The Calgary Flames had a pretty easy go of the last expansion draft when the Vegas Golden Knights entered the league in the summer of 2017. The team had a few star players that were easily protected and high-profile rookies who did not meet the exposure requirement. General manager Brad Treliving even had to go out and sign a goalie who would never play for the team just so they had a goalie to expose at the draft. Moving into the summer of 2021, the story is much different for players and management.
Calgary’s core forward group can all be protected this time around, but on defence, management will have a tough roster decision to make. Juuso Valimaki was the one player on the roster that was exempt from the draft, having not played enough seasons in the league. The rest must be decided upon who will fit under the assumed 7-3-1 format the Flames will use. Here is what should be Calgary’s protection list that will be sent to the league on the eve of the expansion draft.
Gaudreau has been Calgary’s best forward since he joined the league back in the 2014-15 season. He has amassed 494 points in 520 games and currently sits 10th all-time in points in franchise history.
The crafty forward is the team’s best winger and if management wants to compete for the foreseeable future, Gaudreau is someone they want on the team. He currently has one year left on his deal, but has said that he is open to signing long-term in Calgary.
Lindholm was one of the team’s most consistent forwards during the 2020-21 season. He finished second on the team in points and had a ton of ice time at 5-on-5, on the power play, and the penalty kill. Since being traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to Calgary, Lindholm has become an incredibly useful player for the team who excels in all three situations. During the abbreviated season, he showed that he is now this team’s bona fide, number one center in his first time playing back at the position since he was with the Hurricanes.
The third member of the Flames’ newest top line that finished the season strong, Tkachuk is just 23 years old and is still on an upwards trajectory in his career. Whether the Flames want to be competitive or start a rebuild, he is a player that should be a part of either plan. He openly admitted that he didn’t play as well as he could have this season, but he still finished third in scoring on the team and ended the season with six goals in his final five games and 13 points in his final 10 games.
Mangiapane had himself a breakout season with the Flames and with Team Canada at the World Championships after finishing the NHL season. He led the Flames with 15 even-strength goals, which was tied for sixth in the NHL with names like Aleksander Barkov, Mathew Barzal, and Tyler Toffoli.
He also added 11 assists over 56 games, which were all primary assists. After a breakout season in the NHL, Mangiapane made his way over to Riga, Latvia, and made his name across Canada en route to a gold medal and the tournament MVP award.
Monahan has struggled the past two seasons in Calgary, notching just 32 goals in his last 120 games. He and Gaudreau couldn’t find their stride for most of this past season, which eventually led to them being split up for the first time in their careers. The unproductive seasons have led to rumours that Monahan may be the one player from the core who could get traded. Until that happens, if it even does, he will be protected in the expansion draft as the Flames have enough protection spots at forward.
Backlund is one of the longest-tenured Flames and has been a very good defensive center for many seasons in Calgary. He is a great secondary scorer for the team and can play against the league’s elite competition night in and night out. Having just turned 32 in March, he still has plenty of tread left on his tires. His cap hit of $5.35 million is very reasonable for the service that he provides. Backlund will be an important piece for the team moving forward if they want to be competitive, especially at the center position.
Dube is the final forward who should receive a protection spot as he has become a good young player for the Flames. He had a bit of a coming-out party during the return-to-play bubble playoffs where he helped the team beat the Winnipeg Jets in the play-in round. He followed that up by posting career highs in both goals (11) and assists (11) during the 2020-21 season. This year was his first full season with the Flames and he made his case to be a part of this team come next season.
During the 2020-21 season, Hanifin began to show signs of becoming the elite defenceman that many scouts had projected him to become. He and Chris Tanev formed one of the better defensive pairings in the league, playing heavy minutes in the Scotia North Division.
He looked like he could become the team’s replacement for Mark Giordano if he is either selected by Seattle or retires. If Hanifin continues to improve, his $4.95 million contract will look very good.
Andersson is one of just two players in the entire organization that is signed through the 2025-26 season. The Flames have invested in him long-term and will surely be using a protection spot on the Swede. He had a bit of a disappointing season after getting better and better in the minutes and opportunities he was previously given. Like many others in Calgary, Andersson took a bit of a step back in his play while trying to get used to the duties of a first-line defenceman. Signed to the contract he is, if he starts to improve his game and become a better defenceman, the Flames absolutely need to protect him.
Tanev wasn’t expected to play as well as he did during the 2020-21 season, but his defensive play should earn him a spot on Calgary’s protection list. He was one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL and the Flames will be hoping he can do it again in 2021-22. Being one of Calgary’s big offseason signings in 2020, it would be hard to see management leave him exposed to the Kraken. Tanev will turn 32 in December and still has three years left on his deal that brought him to Calgary.
What About Mark Giordano?
The play of Tanev and the age of Giordano makes for a tough but fairly easy decision as to who gets the final spot. The Flames can’t afford to go with the 4-4-1 method as they would expose three good forwards. Giordano ends up being the odd man out under these circumstances and Brad Treliving has probably already had that difficult discussion with him. He was still the team’s leading scoring defenceman in 2020-21, and when he was paired with Tanev, the veterans played very well together.
Does the question then become, do the Flames make a side deal with Seattle in order to protect Giordano? It’s not the best idea given his age, and if he were to be selected, the team would gain more than $6 million in cap space, which they could utilize this summer. If he is taken, could Hanifin take over on the first pair? Is Valimaki ready to play a bigger role with the team? Are there any free agents that could fill the hole left behind? While Giordano is the oldest player on the team and declining in his abilities, there will be a lot of work to do in order to replace his presence.
Who Do The Kraken Select?
A while back I wrote an article about possible candidates from the Flames to be selected by the Kraken. My original prediction was Derek Ryan. Even though he is an unrestricted free agent after this season, Seattle has the ability to negotiate with him up to 72 hours before the expansion draft. I still have a feeling that Ryan may opt to sign with Seattle and go play in his home state of Washington. Giordano, however, is a very close second place as he can still play a moderate number of minutes and contribute on offence. He could most likely become the first captain in Kraken history as next season begins.
The Flames very well could spend to protect Giordano, which wouldn’t be the end of the world as long as the price tag isn’t too hefty. Having draft picks is good for the organization, but it doesn’t guarantee you an NHL player. Giordano guarantees you an NHL player for at least one more season. A later-round pick would be okay to part with, but if Seattle is looking for first- or second-round picks, the Flames may have to prepare to say goodbye to their longtime captain.
Brett is a freelance writer covering the Calgary Flames here at The Hockey Writers. He is an enthusiast of hockey stats and continues to learn every day about the sports analytics movement. Brett enjoys using both statistical analysis and the old-fashioned eye test in his writing to create the best content for readers. His work at THW has been featured on the Calgary Flames’ news feed for The Score and on Yardbarker. Brett is also part of THW’s Flames Faceoff YouTube/podcast show where he brings his opinions each week on the team’s current state of affairs.