With all the exciting things that happen in the NHL day in and day out, it is sometimes hard to remember that there will be a new NHL franchise in Seattle for the 2021-22 season. Although an official date for the Seattle Expansion Draft has yet to be announced, the Vegas Golden Knights had theirs on the day of the NHL awards on June 21, 2017. Their first season began that same year, so we can expect the draft to be around the same date in 2021. This means that the Calgary Flames will have to start preparing for who they will both protect and leave exposed.
Before the Golden Knights’ first NHL season, almost everyone predicted them to struggle. Many of the players they picked were considered castoffs, but we now know that wasn’t the case. Then-general manager George McPhee and his scouting staff did a tremendous job, picking up several players who had strong seasons and helped the team advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
They have since proven it wasn’t a fluke; they had another strong season last year and rank first in the Pacific Division midway through March. This goes to show that with the proper preparation and scouting, Seattle could be a strong team right out of the gate.
Flames’ 2017 Protected List
The rules going into the 2017 Expansion Draft were simple. Each team could protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goaltender, or one goaltender and eight skaters regardless of which position they played. The Flames elected to go with the first option and protected Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and Mike Smith.
The Flames did well in this expansion draft, as the Golden Knights selected veteran defenceman Deryk Engelland. He was a late bloomer, as he didn’t play his first full NHL season until the age of 28. He played four seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins before he signed with the Flames as a free agent, inking a three-year deal worth $2.9 million per year, which did not please Flames fans at the time.
Engelland played three seasons in Calgary before he was selected by the Golden Knights. Though he was an impending free agent at the time, they wasted no time signing him to a one-year deal.
He is still with the team but is struggling to get in the lineup as he has been a healthy scratch on numerous occasions this season and is only averaging 17:33 in ice time. Though the end may be near, he was still a good pick up. He has been a tremendous leader and was honoured with the Mark Messier Leadership Award for the 2017-18 season.
Projecting the Flames’ Protected List
The expansion draft may be over a year away, but the Flames will have to together a plan soon. The rules for this draft are the same as they were for the Golden Knights. Assuming the Flames decide to opt for seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie, their protected list should look something like this:
Milan Lucic, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Dillon Dube, Andrew Mangiapane
Forwards like Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm and Tkachuk are obvious players to protect. They are the Flames’ elite group upfront and won’t be available for Seattle. Lucic is on the list due to his no-movement clause. He could agree to waive it if asked, but it is unlikely Seattle would be willing to take on his $5.25 million cap hit which isn’t up until the end of the 2022-23 season.
Though both Dube and Mangiapane will need new contracts prior to the Expansion Draft, they are both restricted free agents and will likely get extensions. It may be surprising to some to see their names on the protected list, but both are young players who have shown tremendous upside and should continue to improve.
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The biggest name missing from this list is Mikael Backlund. Backlund has been with the Flames since he was selected in the first round in 2007, and has been as consistent as it gets. However, he will be 32 years old by the time the expansion draft takes place, which makes him expendable over younger players like Mangiapane and Dube. Other notable names kept off the list are Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski.
Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson
The name on this list that may be questioned is Mark Giordano. The longtime Flame has had an incredible career with the team and is currently serving as their captain. He had a career year last season, notching 74 points in 78 games and winning his first-ever Norris Trophy. This season hasn’t been the same, and it may be due to the fact he is beginning to slow down at age 36. That is the big reason as to why many believe he won’t be protected. However, he is still averaging an incredible 23:53 of ice time this season and is without a doubt the Flames top defenceman. I believe they will protect him and give him a chance to be a Flame for life.
The other two are no brainers to hold onto. Rasmus Andersson seems to improve every game and was recently signed to a six-year extension. Noah Hanifin has had ups and downs through his first two seasons with the Flames, but is extremely talented and is only getting better. It is easy to forget that he is still just 23 years old considering it is already his fifth year in the NHL. His age, along with what they gave up in a trade to acquire him, make it very likely he is protected.
One player missing is Juuso Valimaki. The 21-year-old Finnish defenceman was taken in the first round by the Flames in 2017 and appears to have a bright future. Due to an injury suffered in August, he hasn’t been able to play a game this season. If he does not suit up for any games this season, he would not have to be protected as rules for the expansion draft state that all first- and second-year skaters will be exempt from selection and will not be part of the protected list. Though you never want to see anyone get hurt, Valimaki’s injury may actually help his team.
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The Flames currently have five defencemen in T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Erik Gustafsson, Derek Forbort, and Michael Stone who are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. It is likely they re-sign at least one of those players, but it doesn’t change who I believe they will put on the protected list. If they do bring any of these players back into the fold, they would likely be left exposed.
It’s been an interesting season for Big Save Dave. The fan favourite goaltender received his first All-Star Game nod thanks to his hot start this season. Since then, he has struggled and finds himself sitting with an underwhelming 2.91 goals-against average (GAA) and a .907 save percentage (SV%).
Despite not being a top tier NHL goalie, Rittich has still been solid the last few seasons. Backup goaltender Cam Talbot has significantly better numbers this season, with a 2.63 GAA and a .919 SV%, but is 32 years old, while Rittich is just 27. Because of this, it makes protecting Rittich the logical move.
Flames Won’t Be Majorly Impacted
Being that this is over a year away means that things can change dramatically before then. No one knows what the Flames roster will look like by 2021. If it does stay similar, it appears that although they may lose a more impactful player than in 2017, they will still be much better off than a lot of other teams around the league.
Former Jr. A player turned writer. Cover both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, and am part of both the Flames Faceoff and Oilers Overtime podcasts.