The Flames are 87.5% through this 56-game schedule, which means the body of work is more than enough for our annual countdown of the team’s best value contracts. Will Andrew Mangiapane take the number one spot for a second straight season? And how many new faces find themselves on this list?
Before we count ’em down for 2021, here is last year’s top five:
5. Mikael Backlund
4. Derek Ryan
3. TJ Brodie
2. Elias Lindholm
1. Andrew Mangiapane
Once again, there was only one criteria to make this list: a player couldn’t be on an entry level contract. Otherwise, everyone was in the running.
5. Josh Leivo
The counting numbers don’t pop, and we’ve seen him in and out of the lineup at times, but Leivo has been effective in his role most of the season. Sure, some were hoping Leivo could fill a top six role upon signing as an unrestricted free agent in October, but how realistic really was that in hindsight? For $875,000 on a one-year deal, though, it’s tough not to like what we’ve seen. All data courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
Filling mostly a fourth line role, Leivo has been an effective five-on-five forward for Calgary all season. He ranks second on the team in even strength possession, high danger scoring chances, and expected goals. I’ve liked Leivo for most of the year, and I think he has specifically found his stride under new head coach Darryl Sutter.
4. Noah Hanifin
Prior to sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury on Apr. 24, Hanifin was enjoying his best season in the NHL. The 24-year-old defenceman was leading the Flames in five-on-five ice time, averaging 17:53 per game, and had taken huge strides in his all-around game. Playing most of the season on Calgary’s top pair with Chris Tanev, Hanifin’s underlying metrics looked very strong.
While always cost effective, this is the first season Hanifin has provided truly great value since signing a six-year deal at $4.95 million annually in the summer of 2018. He was thriving while playing lots of minutes against tough competition and the offence was trending in the right direction, too.
Hanifin was seen by some as expendable coming into the season and his name frequently came up in trade speculation. That has changed dramatically as Hanifin has moved himself into the “untouchable” conversation with his 2021 season. A big part of that is the contract, as it has provided immense value this year.
3. Elias Lindholm
Number one in 2019 and number two last year, Lindholm has found himself on this list every season since joining the Flames. Yes, he “dropped” to number three for 2021, but that doesn’t diminish the incredible value Lindholm brings to Calgary with his price tag. Lindholm is without question this team’s number one centre but, with a $4.85 million AAV, is their sixth highest-paid forward.
Lindholm has taken on the head-to-head responsibility of a number one centre well, but it hasn’t detracted from his offence. Lindholm boasts the team’s top points-per-60 rate at five-on-five and is second only to Mangiapane in goals-per-60. And, with 43 points in 49 games overall, he’d be on pace for around 72 in a normal season. The Flames will take that for under $5 million every day of the week.
2. Chris Tanev
You could easily make the argument Tanev has been Calgary’s best player from start to finish this season. In fact, knowing the minutes he plays and responsibility he shoulders, it’s hard to argue for anyone other than Tanev. Year one of a four-year, $18 million contract has been an absolute homerun.
Tanev’s on-ice impact goes beyond the underlying metrics above, too. First with Hanifin and now with Mark Giordano, Tanev has helped elevate two partners this season. Defensively, his expected goals against per 60 of 1.57 is the lowest total of any defenceman in the NHL this season. That is bonkers when you consider Tanev plays almost exclusively against the opposition’s best talent every single night.
Some were wary of the Flames signing a 31-year-old defenceman for four years when the deal was announced in October. Who knows how things go in years two, three, and four. All we know is that Tanev’s first season in Calgary has been outstanding. Oh, and his $4.5 million cap hit puts him fourth on this team’s blueline.
1. Andrew Mangiapane
We have a repeat winner! For a second straight year, Mangiapane takes home top honours, even though he got a sizeable raise during the offseason. Mangiapane’s cap hit jumped from $715,000 to $2.425 million year over year, but that doesn’t deter us from giving him the number one spot once again. That’s how consistently strong Mangiapane has been.
Mangiapane is a top five player for the Flames in all the major on-ice categories (shot rate, high danger chances, expected goals). He’s also been one of the team’s most productive players at five-on-five, as his scoring rates illustrate. Mangiapane boasts the best goals-per-60 rate on the team and is second only to Lindholm in points-per-60.
Even with a deserving raise, Mangiapane still gives the team elite value and will be in the running for top spot again next season. If he keeps things up, signing a two-year bridge deal in October is going to pay off huge when it’s time to negotiate a longer deal in the summer of 2022.