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Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Flames protect Mark Giordano in the expansion draft?

The Seattle Kraken will begin play in the National Hockey League in the 2021-22 season. The expansion draft to fill their roster will take place on July 21, meaning the 30 participating clubs (Vegas is exempt) have some decisions to make.

For the Calgary Flames, one of their key decisions regards the future of their captain, Mark Giordano.

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A brief history of Giordano

Everyone knows Giordano’s remarkable story, because it’s quite unique and awesome in the context of what we think high-level hockey usually is.

Undrafted at every level of hockey, he made the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack as a 19-year-old on a try-out and became one of their most effective players. Given that he was in junior-A during his draft year, he wasn’t drafted by an NHL club. After finishing his overage year in the OHL, he was preparing to go to university when the Flames came calling, looking for depth players to fill out their shared affiliate club with Carolina, the Lowell Lock Monsters. Giordano signed his deal, and the rest is history.

Giordano is on the Flames’ Mount Rushmore for blueliners, having basically willed himself into excellence as he progressed during his career – working his way up from scrappy AHL call-up in 2005-06 to team captain in 2013-14 to Norris Trophy winner in 2018-19. He’s not the best defenseman in club history – you can make strong arguments for Al MacInnis, Gary Suter or Paul Reinhart there – but he might be the player who has done the most with what he’s been given.

But he’s turning 38 in October, and the Flames have a dilemma on their hands.

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Here comes Seattle

Barring anything weird happening, the Flames will opt to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. It allows them to protect 11 eligible assets instead of nine, and that allows them to hold onto guys like Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane. It’s a no-brainer.

On the blueline, two spots are also obvious. Noah Hanifin is 24 years old and signed for three more seasons at a $4.95 million cap hit – and he’s taken a big step in his play this season. Rasmus Andersson is 24 years old and signed for five more seasons at a $4.55 million cap hit. Those two guys are cornerstone pieces.

The third protection spot comes down to Giordano or Chris Tanev.

Decisions, decisions…

Tanev is 31 and has three seasons (and a $4.5 million cap hit) remaining on a deal that many thought would age poorly – and still might – but thus far looks excellent. Giordano is 37 and has one season remaining at $6.75 million.

Performance-wise, it’s not much of a comparison from an expected goals lens. (Stats are 5v5 and via Natural Stat Trick.)

Player xGF/60 xGA/60 OZFO%
Tanev 2.21 1.58 51.89
Hanifin 2.25 1.78 51.28
Valimaki 2.31 2.06 64.35
Nesterov 2.28 2.03 61.58
Giordano 2.09 2.36 53.51
Andersson 2.03 2.51 52.09

Offensively (xGF/60), Giordano is the second-worst regular. Defensively (xGA/60), he’s the second-worst regular. That’s with some tough match-ups, but whatever way you want to dress it up, he and Andersson have struggled. Meanwhile, Tanev is the team’s best defensive blueliner and he’s middle of the pack offensively.

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In the context of Giordano’s career, this season stands out… negatively.

Season xGF/60 xGA/60 OZFO%
2016-17 2.18 1.95 48.97
2017-18 2.78 2.06 53.50
2018-19 2.56 2.02 51.44
2019-20 2.38 2.07 48.84
2020-21 2.09 2.36 53.51

Offensively and defensively, it’s Giordano’s worst season in his last five. It is, quite literally, like his game fell off a cliff. He similarly weak offensively in the playoffs (2.09 xGF/60), but much better defensively (2.07 xGA/60).

Two questions frame the decision:

  • What’s more likely in 2021-22: a 38-year-old Giordano bouncing back, or a 32-year-old Tanev keeping this up?
  • Who’s more likely to be claimed: Giordano or Tanev?

Tanev is more likely to keep his strong play up, especially given the age disparity. And while neither seems likely to be claimed, Tanev would be more appealing to the Kraken.

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Sum it up

Will it be awkward for the Flames to expose their captain? Yeah, a little bit. But from a strictly non-emotional, asset management standpoint, it’s clearly the right move given how well Tanev has fit on the blueline and how well he’s played.