Peruse Cap Friendly’s fantastic Seattle Kraken expansion draft simulator, or merely leaf through various protected player projections, and you might note that it’s still unclear how many NHL teams will handle all this. Who are the right players to expose or protect? Rank the Calgary Flames among the teams facing the toughest expansion draft protection questions.
Now, for teams like the Penguins, the possibilities feel overwhelming.
In some cases, it’s not yet clear if teams will protect players from the Seattle Kraken in the more typical 7-3-1 expansion draft format (seven forwards, three defensemen, one goalie) or go with eight skaters of any kind (you’d assume four forwards and four defensemen) and a goalie.
If various reports are correct, the Flames’ burning Kraken expansion draft protection question is straightforward. But choosing between Mark Giordano and Christopher Tanev might not necessarily be “easy.”
The case for Flames protecting Tanev instead of Giordano
When the Flames signed Chris Tanev to a four-year, $18 million contract, it honestly seemed like a mistake. This was an aging, one-dimensional player whose defensive dimension didn’t even look so hot in 2019-20.
To put things mildly, Tanev exceeded expectations in 2020-21. For a largely disappointing Flames team, Tanev ended up being one of the stingiest defenders in the NHL. With Giordano taking a step back, you could argue Tanev brought more value to the table last season.
Check out how they compared at even-strength by Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts:
Tanev, 31, carries a $4.5M cap hit for three more seasons. Meanwhile, Giordano, 37, sees his contract ($6.75M AAV) expire after 2021-22.
Considering Tanev’s younger age, and strong 2020-21 season, The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian and other Flames observers believe that the team should protect Tanev. That would mean exposing Giordano, or working out a side deal with the Kraken.
There’s room to debate the matter further, though.
Possible slippage for Tanev?
When you start zooming out, two things become a bit more complicated.
- Comparing Giordano vs. Tanev, as players.
- Considering their contracts, and perhaps trade scenarios.
It’s reasonable to expect Tanev to deliver strong defense in 2021-22. That said, it’s fair to wonder if we’ll always see “2019-20 Tanev.” One reason people grimaced at his contract was that, even late in his Canucks years, it looked like his rugged style was starting to catch up with him.
Frankly, it’s remarkable how much things change if you tweak your view. When a three-year Evolving Hockey player card goes from 2018-19 through 2020-21, Tanev looks like a defensive stud. And you don’t worry much about negligible offense:
If you merely change the range from 2017-18 to 2019-20, things look a little shakier:
(Meanwhile Giordano shines under just about all parameters.)
It’s not 100-percent clear if Tanev will be more worth keeping in sheer hockey terms next season. GAR projections, for instance, predict comparable defensive results for both, with Giordano bringing more offense.
So, while Tanev delivered great value in 2020-21, there’s a chance for slippage.
Comparing contracts: a matter of perspective
It’s important to note that Tanev at $4.5M looks great now, but it might not age well. (Strangely enough, there are even louder worries about Brandon Tanev. Tanev’s a very nice player, yet term and cap hit present a cost-benefit question.)
Of course, at 37, Giordano’s at an even greater risk for a collapse. That’s fair even if you realize that Giordano isn’t that far removed from a Norris Trophy win, and profiles as a more well-rounded player than Tanev.
But context is crucial, too.
If the Flames were a no-doubt contender, then it would make total sense to try to keep the band together as much as possible. Tanev’s additional years, and younger age, would make him a clear choice over Giordano. That would be true even if Tanev played over his head last season.
Instead, the Flames are in a murky spot. Calgary missed the playoffs despite a wonky North Division, and it’s unclear if they’ll maintain most of that Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Matthew Tkachuk core.
With that in mind, Giordano’s contract becomes a potential building block for the future. The Flames could trade Giordano, either during the offseason or around the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.
Even if Giordano walked, he wouldn’t totally walk for nothing. His $6.75M cap hit would dissolve, giving the Flames leeway to add for the future.
If that’s the path the Flames are considering (or at least want as an option), then suddenly losing Giordano to the Seattle Kraken looks a lot worse. Elliotte Friedman recently pondered the Kraken selecting Giordano and then merely trading him in “31 Thoughts.”
A tough call
Really, it’s understandable if the Flames are pondering exposing Giordano, but bribing the Kraken not to take him in the expansion draft. That could create an even uglier scenario if the Flames fall on their faces once again in 2021-22. Especially if the bribe would cost more than they’d receive if they decided to trade Giordano later.
In chatting with front offices around the league the last 24-48 hours, one word to sum up what the Kraken are still asking for as payment in side deals to navigate the expansion draft: “Exorbitant.''
But I mean, there's still time before Saturday's protection list deadline…
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 14, 2021
Losing Tanev in the expansion draft would be agonizing for the Flames, as well, though. Especially if he plays at or near the level of defense he provided last season.
Perhaps the Flames would just be “pulling off the Band-Aid” if they just exposed Giordano to the Kraken? Maybe Giordano’s age (and even his $6.75M AAV) would scare Seattle off? If nothing else, that would provide the Flames with extra cap space to work with this offseason.
Overall, the Giordano – Tanev expansion draft question is a difficult one for the Flames. Really, this franchise faces plenty of riddles this offseason. It’s one of those times where maybe it’s not so sad that running a hockey team is merely a fantasy for most of us.