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Flames management gambled and won (mostly) in 2021-22

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
5 months ago
Heading into the 2021 off-season, the Calgary Flames were in a precarious situation. The Seattle expansion draft was approaching and the club had decided to use their three defensive protection spots on Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev, leaving captain Mark Giordano exposed.
The Kraken reportedly wanted a king’s ransom to avoid Giordano, which the Flames opted not to pay. It turned out to be a prudent choice and Flames management managed to generally win with their moves in 2021-22.
The Flames weren’t all that good in 2020-21, missing the playoffs and generally being inconsistent and disjointed. Management brought in Darryl Sutter mid-season and he spent the rest of the season laying groundwork, taking notes, and generally preparing for a regular training camp (and season) in 2021-22.
The Flames lost Giordano to Seattle in expansion, then lost Artyom Zagidulin, Louis Domingue, Nikita Nesterov, Josh Leivo, Derek Ryan and Dominik Simon in free agency. They added Dan Vladar (trade), Nikita Zadorov (trade), Erik Gudbranson (UFA), Trevor Lewis (UFA), Tyler Pitlick (trade) and Blake Coleman (UFA) in the off-season in a process many referred to as the team’s “Sutterification.”
When the season began and the team played well, the general reaction to that process was “Well, yeah, that makes sense.” The Flames looked like a much different team. Part of that was because Sutter (and his coaching staff) had a full training camp to implement systems. But management also sprinkled in several Suttery players throughout the roster to reinforce things – having Gudbranson, Lewis and Coleman definitely helped.
Functionally, losing Giordano caused the Flames to split up his ice time and responsibilities between Noah Hanifin, Oliver Kylington and Gudbranson out of necessity. It worked out fairly well, and in practice defensive roles were split up in a pretty clear way and ice time was distributed in a fairly even, sustainable manner.
Mid-season, the Flames made three trades that didn’t involve AHL goaltender Michael McNiven:
  • Tyler Toffoli was acquired from Montreal for Emil Heineman, Pitlick, a 2022 first-rounder and a 2023 fifth-rounder
  • Calle Jarnkrok was acquired (at half salary retained) from Seattle for a 2022 second-rounder, a 2023 third-rounder and a 2024 seventh-rounder
  • Ryan Carpenter was acquired from Chicago for a 2024 fifth-rounder.
(They also made two trades involving McNiven that entirely cancelled each other out.)
Had the Flames opted to retain Giordano and pay Seattle’s hefty demands, they would’ve (a) lost somebody else (possibly Kylington), (b) probably not have opened up as much cap space as they did with Giordano’s departure and (c) not have had the draft capital (or cap space) to add Toffoli.
The Flames enabled the growth of some of their young defenders, avoided losing their first two picks in the supposed-to-be-awesome 2023 draft, and had the draft capital available to add Toffoli and had the cap space to accommodate his addition and remaining contracted years.
You can criticize the club a bit for not bringing up a few of their younger players – Stockton was a very good team with a lot of good individual performances. But the team philosophy seemed to be “hey, let’s load up with savvy veterans with defined roles and lean into pace and structure,” and it would’ve been a lot to ask of a youngster to throw them into that situation. (You don’t want a rookie feeling like they have to be perfect or else the team will miss the playoffs and everybody will be sad, and since this was a “going for it” year, it would’ve been a challenge.) Heck, Adam Ruzicka was thrown into that situation and generally did quite well, but even he occasionally looked a bit lost and eventually he was sent to the farm when trade acquisitions began arriving.
All of the Flames’ trade deadline moves didn’t work out completely – Carpenter hardly played, Jarnkrok was merely fine, and Toffoli couldn’t bury his chances in the playoffs – but for the most part the additions the Flames made were the moves we would’ve made had we been in charge. They gave themselves an enhanced chance to win, and that’s really all you can ask for from the management group in-season.
It’s hard to say that a year of moves that began with losing a really good player for nothing ended up being a net positive, but the Flames made a big gamble by letting Giordano go to the Emerald City and it largely paid off and gave them the flexibility to do a lot of different things.

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