As a strictly business decision, this one is a no-brainer. But if you allow those pesky emotions to creep into the equation, the Calgary Flames have a difficult choice to make before the Seattle Expansion Draft on July 21. On one hand, you’ve got the long-serving captain and Norris Trophy-winning face of the franchise. On the other, you’ve got the squad’s number one defenceman and arguably best player. It’s a real conundrum that offers no easy answers and a very uncertain outcome.
The Flames are probably thanking their lucky stars that they don’t have to make any franchise-altering decisions when protecting their forward ranks. That’s because they traded Sam Bennett away, and Milan Lucic agreed to waive his no-movement clause, thus becoming available to Seattle. When it comes to the blueliners, they are not nearly as fortunate.
If the Flames use the 7-3-1 protection model (seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie), then either Mark Giordano or Chris Tanev will have to be exposed. There’s no way Calgary will allow the Kraken to steal youngsters Noah Hanifin or Rasmus Andersson, as they represent the long-term future of the team’s defensive core. So, that leaves the two “old guys” with the big contracts, and that creates a true no-win situation for the boys in red.
The Case for Exposing Giordano
If you remove the sentimental aspect from this quandary, this really isn’t a debate. Giordano will be 38 years old to start the coming season and has shown a slow but steady decline from his career-best Norris Trophy-winning performance during the 2018-19 campaign. Yes, the undrafted D-man had a solid second half and led all defenders with 26 points in 56 games, but does that justify protecting the team captain? No. Not from a purely business perspective. No. 5 is coming off his worst season ever if you look at his expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and high danger scoring chances (HDCF%), and he’s gone from being an extremely reliable presence to potential liability.
The veteran leader only has one year left on his contract at $6.75 million, but can you imagine what the Flames could do with that extra room in this flat cap era if that massive salary was off the books? I can think of a few desperately-needed right-wingers who might fit in very well on this squad, and the team wouldn’t have to sacrifice any additional assets to get them. If management really wants to shake things up and sign quality players this offseason, Giordano has to be exposed, and Seattle must select him. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the reality.
The Case for Exposing Tanev
I must admit, finding a good reason to expose Tanev to the Seattle Expansion Draft was a pretty tall order, but let’s start with the obvious. The steady blueliner will turn 32 years old this coming year, and you really have to ask yourself — have we just experienced PEAK Chris Tanev? The former Canuck has definitely turned back the clock and bucked his recent trend of injury-riddled campaigns. Between 2012 and 2019, the steady D-man played in only 391 of Vancouver’s 540 regular-season games. That’s very concerning, to say the least, so did we just witness an anomaly?
Right after signing in Calgary this past offseason, some hockey pundits questioned the move, pointing out that Tanev’s foot speed was on the decline and that he had been out-chanced and outscored at 5-on-5 and for two consecutive seasons. (from ‘Flames’ bet on Chris Tanev paid off in Year 1’, The Athletic – 6/21/21) And what about that contract? Well, his $4.5 million cap hit is much more manageable than Giordano’s, but with three more years to go, what are the odds that No. 8 can sustain his stellar play? Will the Flames regret signing him to a four-year deal? If left unprotected, all of these questions become moot because after the incredible season the wild-haired defender just had, Seattle would snatch him up in a heartbeat.
Exposing Either Player Has Big Risks
If Tanev is not protected, the Flames will most certainly lose him. Not only was he one of the best shutdown defenders in the league, but he also made anyone paired up with him a much better player. Before this season, there were serious questions about Hanifin’s consistency, but after slotted in with Tanev, the 24-year-old easily had his best campaign since being traded to Calgary.
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After Giordano struggled mightily playing with Andersson, head coach Darryl Sutter paired him up with No. 8, and the captain’s on-ice play improved dramatically. If this team is actually willing to say goodbye to their best defenceman, they would very likely trade Tanev rather than expose him to Seattle and get nothing in return. That brings us to the very likely scenario that the second longest-serving captain in franchise history will be the odd man out.
The optics of exposing Giordano are not good — and that’s putting it mildly. There are those who would suggest that loyalty is a thing of the past and that hockey is a business. Full stop. I would say that casting off your team captain and completely ignoring his immense contributions to the team (on and off the ice) would send a terrible message. What will the room think of a management team willing to throw their leader under the bus, and what happens if No. 5 is not actually selected by the Kraken?
The relationship between Giordano and general manager Brad Treliving could suffer irrevocable damage, and the organization’s entire culture would likely take a huge hit. For those who are thinking that I’m overreacting or overthinking this — you might have a point. There’s really no way of knowing how all of this will play out, but I do know there are really no good outcomes.
The Flames either lose their best blueliner, their heart and soul captain, or neither. But if Giordano is indeed exposed but lives to see another day in a Calgary uniform, there will need to be some serious fence-mending to repair the damage.
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.