The NHL offseason is the time when 32 general managers (GM) take stock of what they’ve got in the cupboard and what needs to be filled on their shopping list, all while staying under the league salary cap and not breaking the bank. Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving didn’t make the wholesale changes to his roster that many fans were clamoring for, but he did make one notable move by inking two-time Stanley Cup winner Blake Coleman to bolster the top six.
He also made a couple of veteran depth signings to shore up the bottom six, added two new D-men and traded for an unknown backup goalie. But, for every newcomer that joined the squad, we saw an equal exodus of notable players move on from Calgary for a fresh start in a new NHL city.
Mark Giordano: Selected in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft
I think the last thing the Flames wanted to do was expose their long-serving captain in last summer’s expansion draft. The heart and soul player truly wanted to finish his career with a flaming C on his chest, but the business side of the game demanded Mark Giordano be the sacrificial lamb and, to be honest, it was probably for the best. The move gave Calgary an extra $6.75 million of cap space to play with, while Seattle got a solid defender who can still play a top-pairing role and offer instant veteran leadership to a fledgling expansion locker room. Giordano could also be a valuable chip for the Kraken at the trade deadline if they feel the need to move on from the 38-year-old rearguard.
The former Flame got off to a great start in Seattle, scoring six points (two goals, four assists) in his first 10 games, but he’s cooled off substantially since then. Giordano only has one point in his last nine starts, but he’s still playing top-pairing minutes and mentoring the young Kraken blueliners, particularly 25-year-old Vince Dunn. “Gio” was the obvious choice for the franchise’s first captain and is proving that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Do we miss him in Calgary? It’s funny… if you had asked me that question before the start of the 2021-22 campaign, I would have bet the farm that the Flames would miss Giordano terribly. However, with Rasmus Andersson having a bounceback season, Oliver Kylington leading all defensemen with 12 points and Chris Tanev’s ability to keep turning back the clock, I’d have to say no. The boys in red have definitely moved on and are better off without their former captain.
Sam Bennett: Traded to the Florida Panthers
Like many people, I was hoping Sam Bennett would eventually become the elite player he was projected to be at the 2014 NHL entry draft. When the Flames made him the highest pick in franchise history (fourth overall), he was supposed to develop into the team’s best centerman since Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk wore the flaming C. But after seven seasons plagued by wildly inconsistent production, the 24-year-old requested a trade out of cowtown in late January 2021. He wanted a fresh start – and by golly, it worked.
On April 12, the Flames dealt Bennett and a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Florida Panthers for a 2022 second-round pick and Swedish prospect Emil Heineman, and from the moment he got there, the 25-year-old hit the ground running. In his first 10 games playing in the Sunshine State, he racked up an impressive 15 points. The Panthers obviously liked what they saw because they inked the gritty forward to a 4-year, $17.6 million extension in late July.
Bennett is also having a solid start to his 2021-22 campaign, adding another 12 points in his first 15 games, so that begs the question – do we miss him in Calgary? That’s a tough one. It’s obvious the Flames couldn’t find the proper role for the former first-round pick and there was no guarantee he would have ever found success in cowtown, so I’m going to say no… begrudgingly.
Derek Ryan: Signed With the Edmonton Oilers
Derek Ryan is someone I will always root for to succeed. The undersized, undrafted center took a very unconventional path to the big leagues – suiting up for four seasons of Canadian university hockey and another four playing professionally in Europe before finally making his NHL debut at the ripe age of 29. After signing with Calgary before the 2018-19 season, the versatile skater proved to be an effective bottom-six center for three seasons before signing a two-year, $2.5 million contract with the Edmonton Oilers this past summer.
Ryan was tasked with anchoring the Oilers’ third line, but the 34-year-old only has a single point in 16 games this season and has been a concerning minus-10. The native of Spokane, Washington was almost a half-point-a-game player for his first four NHL campaigns, but that production has dropped off dramatically and he could soon be relegated to fourth-line duty in Edmonton.
Do we miss him in Calgary? I think I miss the player Ryan was for two of his three seasons in cowtown, but after a down year in 2020-21 and a very slow start to his first campaign as an Oiler, I’m going to say no. So far, newcomer Brad Richardson has been pretty effective in anchoring the Flames’ fourth line.
David Rittich: Traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Signed With Nashville Predators
David Rittich quickly became a fan favorite during his four seasons in Calgary, a testament to his gregarious personality off the ice and passionate play on it. It also didn’t hurt that “Big Save Dave” had one of the best nicknames in the NHL. Despite his popularity, the big Czech never played consistently enough to truly grab the reigns as the Flames’ number one netminder. When Jacob Markstrom was signed to a six-year deal in 2020, the 29-year-old became expendable.
Rittich was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs before last year’s trade deadline in exchange for their third-round draft pick in 2022. The affable goaltender completed his tenure in cowtown tied for seventh place for most wins as a Flames goaltender with 63. He also finished in ninth place in minutes played with 7,068 and 12th in save percentage (SV%), at .908.
Rittich’s stint in Toronto was short-lived, as he was only brought in because their number one netminder, Frederik Andersen, was on injured reserve. The 6-foot-3 goaltender only played in four games for the Leafs in 2020-21, posting a decent 1-1-1 record. He signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract to back up Juuse Saros in Nashville in the offseason. Still, after a rather drawn-out COVID-19 protocol process to start the 2021-22 campaign, the native of Jihlava, Czech Republic, only made his season debut with the Predators on November 12, winning in OT over the St. Louis Blues.
Do we miss him in Calgary? I was actually a proponent of bringing “Big Save Dave” back to the C of Red to play backup to Markstrom, as I was skeptical of the unknown quantity that was Daniel Vladar. Twenty games into the 2021-22 season and two shutouts later, I’ll admit I was wrong about the Flames’ new rookie backup. I’d have to say very few people in cowtown are missing Rittich right about now.
Josh Leivo: Signed With the Carolina Hurricanes
I think last season was a real missed opportunity for Josh Leivo to get his NHL career back on track. After suffering a cracked kneecap in December 2019 playing for the Vancouver Canucks, the right winger missed the rest of the campaign and opted to sign a one-year, $875,000 deal with Calgary before the 2020-21 season. The Flames auditioned the 28-year-old forward with various partners in the top nine, but Leivo couldn’t find chemistry with anyone and often found himself relegated to fourth-line duty.
The journeyman forward did find more success after Darryl Sutter took over the reigns, scoring all six of his goals in the back half of the 2020-21 season, but it was too little, too late. The Flames opted not to re-sign him, so the native of Innisfil, Ontario inked a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Carolina Hurricanes in the offseason. So far, things haven’t panned out with the ‘Canes, as Leivo has spent most of his season playing for the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Chicago Wolves. In his two games playing for the big club, the former Flame averaged just 6:27 of ice time.
Do we miss him in Calgary? I always thought Leivo had a decent scoring touch and was surprised that he didn’t make more of an impact in Calgary, but no, he’s not missed. Newcomers like Trevor Lewis and Tyler Pitlick play a similar bottom-six role and have been just fine so far.
Nikita Nesterov: Signed with CSKA Moscow in the KHL
Prior to signing in Calgary in 2020 for the league minimum of $700,000, Nikita Nesterov played three years in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow, where he played a big role in winning a championship with them. Heading into last year’s Flames training camp, I predicted that Nesterov would start the season as the seventh defenceman, or even on the taxi squad. He proved me and all the other naysayers wrong by impressing former head coach Geoff Ward enough to beat out Kylington to earn a spot in the season opener alongside Juuso Välimäki.
While he did play a fairly solid game on the third pairing in the first half of the 2020-21 campaign, the 28-year-old Russian found himself a healthy scratch more often as the season progressed. First, rookie Connor Mackey was given a multi-game audition, and then Kylington saw some action with Välimäki. Nesterov ended up playing 38 of 56 games and was not offered another contract with the Flames. The native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, opted to return to his old KHL team in Moscow, where he has 24 points in 32 games this year.
Do we miss him in Calgary? Not even a little bit! If we don’t miss Giordano, how could we possibly miss Nesterov?
Joakim Nordstrom: Signed with CSKA Moscow in the KHL
To start the 2020-21 season, the Flames were down two very effective penalty killers after the departures of Mark Jankowski and Tobias Rieder. The solution? The Flames brought in Joakim Nordstrom on a one-year, league-minimum $700,000 contract to try and fill that void. The 29-year-old was a veteran of over 400 NHL games and a fixture on the Boston Bruins’ penalty kill in 2019-20, averaging almost two minutes of PK time per game. It all looked good on paper, but the Swedish winger brought absolutely zero offense to the table.
In 44 games, Nordstrom scored a single goal, and to be honest, he wasn’t even the greatest penalty killer either. So, it surprised no one when Calgary didn’t offer the 6-foot-1 checker another contract. In fact, the native of Stockholm couldn’t find any takers in the entire NHL and ended up signing with CSKA Moscow, where he’s been reunited with former teammate Nesterov.
Do we miss him in Calgary? Um… yeah. I’m not even going to dignify that with a response. The Flames have much better options to kill off penalties this season, including newcomers Coleman, Trevor Lewis and Pitlick. They’ve also got guys like Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube, who can also fill that role quite nicely.
Dominik Simon: Signed With the Pittsburgh Penguins
Dominik Simon has come full circle. After playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins for three seasons, the 27-year-old signed a one-year league-minimum $700,000 contract with the Flames before the 2020-21 season. I’m thinking Calgary’s coaching staff were hoping they could snag a first-line winger for a bargain-basement price. You see, Simon was no stranger to playing on a top unit, as he enjoyed skating alongside Sidney Crosby for stretches of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons while in Pittsburgh. With that in mind, the Flames gave him multiple chances to click with “Johnny and Mony.” It didn’t work.
In fact, it didn’t work out on any of the Flames four lines and before long, Simon was either a healthy scratch, relegated to the taxi squad, or sent down to the AHL and the Stockton Heat. In all, the native of Prague, Czech Republic, played in only 11 contests, scoring zero goals and zero assists. Of all of Calgary’s league minimum depth signings from 2020-21, this one was the absolute worst of the bunch. So, where did he end up for the 2021-22 campaign? Why, he’s right back where he started – playing for the Penguins on a one-year, $750,000 contact.
Do we miss him in Calgary? Ha ha ha ha ha!
Will the Flames Make More Moves Before the Postseason?
If I’m being honest, I didn’t think there was any chance the roster tinkering Treliving did this past offseason would have led to the team’s incredible start to the 2021-22 campaign. Except for Giordano, every one of these departed players was effectively a depth guy. And, with the exception of Coleman, all of the recent signings and trades the Flames made this summer were simply moves to replace those depth guys.
On paper, Calgary’s current roster doesn’t really look any better than the 2020-21 version, but that doesn’t seem to matter. They are battling for the best record in the Western Conference and if the Flames can keep up this torrid pace right to the trade deadline, I wouldn’t rule out Treliving loading up for a deep run. So stay tuned – this list of departed players could get a little bit longer before the end of the season.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.