Many have pointed to this summer as one of the most pivotal in franchise history. And, so far anyway, things have been quiet in Calgary save a few coaching decisions and an expected Brett Ritchie re-signing. That all changes tonight when Seattle finally ends the suspense at the NHL Expansion Draft. By this time next week we’ll know where the captain is playing next season, multiple new prospects will have joined the organization, and free agency will be hours away from opening. Here we go.
Mark Giordano’s fate
As of post time (8 a.m. mountain, 10 a.m. eastern), Seattle’s selections are now locked in and have been distributed to the rest of the league and the NHLPA. Assuming no side deal has been made, the question becomes… do the Kraken decide to take Giordano? If the NHL has their way, we won’t find out until their telecast goes live at 6 p.m.
If Seattle goes in that direction, it will be a massive foundational shift for the organization. Even the most pragmatic Flames fan couldn’t be blamed for being sad watching Giordano leave after 17 years. We all know his story and it’s one of the most unlikely NHL trajectories we’ve seen in recent memory. To see Gio finish his career in Calgary 51 games short of 1,000 would be understandably a little tough to swallow.
If Giordano is indeed playing with the Kraken, or elsewhere, next season, there will be plenty of time to analyze what comes next for the Flames. On the surface, though, the Flames would be taking a hit on their blueline. Even with a decline in play since his Norris season, Giordano still led the team in ice time last season (22:57) and was a bona fide top pairing defenceman. That’s not easily replaceable.
On the flip side, a Giordano claim for Seattle will instantly open up $6.75 million in cap space. That’s a lot of added flexibility for general manager Brad Treliving, either in free agency or on the trade market. So while fully replacing Giordano player for player might be difficult, it could allow Calgary to target other areas of need, specifically up front.
Finally, there’s the elephant in the room. Flames fans have been clamouring for significant core changes for a couple seasons. So much of that conversation has focused on the forward group, but is there a bigger shock to the system than the departure of Giordano? By no means should he bear the brunt of Calgary’s recent playoff disappointments, but Giordano has been the captain since this new core started taking shape. Him leaving could be the core shakeup so many believe the Flames desperately need.
Round one goes Friday night. Rounds two through seven go Saturday. As of right now, Calgary has seven picks at the 2021 NHL Draft in what shapes up to be the most unpredictable version of the NHL’s hallmark event in years. No one I’ve spoken to has a definitive feel on who will be available when the Flames pick at 13. And, yes, I’m aware they’re actually up one pick earlier.. .but as of now, the league is going with numbers including Arizona’s forfeited 11th overall selection.
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Plenty of names have popped up when different experts have revealed their lists, but it always seems to come back to centre Cole Sillinger (pictured). But will the Medicine Hat Tigers/Sioux Falls Stampede product be available into the double digits? Many believe he’s a candidate to be taken much earlier than published rankings would suggest.
Other names that have been projected in Calgary’s range have mostly been at forward. Those include Chaz Lucius (US National Development Team Program), Matthew Coronato (Chicago Steel), Mason McTavish (Peterborough Petes), and Fabian Lysell (Frolunda). In the “long shot” category, some Flames fans have hoped for a Kent Johnson (University of Michigan) or Luke Hughes (USNDTP) to fall to 13.
And, of course, with any draft helmed by Treliving, there’s the anticipation of a trade or two. His history of wheeling and dealing on the draft floor is well documented and that translated to a virtual setting last year. While Calgary didn’t make any deals involving current NHLers, Treliving did move down twice to eventually select Kamloops Blazers forward Connor Zary at 24th overall.
One week from today at 10 a.m. mountain, the league’s free agent signing period is open. For the Flames, so much of their approach comes down to what happens with Giordano. Close to an additional $7 million in space could allow Calgary to chase bigger names than we might have thought otherwise.
If that added flexibility exists, you’d have to think the Flames would look for help on the blueline. As mentioned already, adding a player of Giordano’s caliber in free agency is unlikely. However, supplementing on the back end combined with what already exists is interesting. For instance, any one of Alex Edler, Ryan Suter, or Alex Martinez, just to use three examples, would likely come cheaper than Giordano’s current cap hit.
On the outside, many think Calgary is in need of another top six winger, specifically with a right shot. Zach Hyman is an exciting name, but I would be stunned if the Flames were to meet his camp’s reported ask of $6 million per over six or seven years. On paper, though, Hyman looks to be a great fit, specifically knowing the success he’s had in Toronto playing with highly skilled players.
Additionally, there are a couple RFA forwards on the market that fit the bill. Seeing Calgary swing a trade to bring them in is an intriguing option to explore. Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi and Arizona’s Conor Garland have both been linked to trade speculation and would be solid projected fits in the top six. A trade would have to make sense, but both players have the ability to finish and have 20-goal upside, which was something lacking on the Flames this past season.