The NHL’s annual trade deadline is 1 p.m. MT on April 12. However, it’s not the only big shuffling of the league-wide deck that’ll happen in 2021, as the Seattle Kraken will hold their expansion draft in mid July. With that addition comes some complexities for the rest of the league, including the Calgary Flames, as we approach the trade deadline.

2021 expansion draft rules

2021’s expansion draft will operate under the same rules as the 2017 draft that brought the Vegas Golden Knights into existence – Vegas won’t be taking part, so both drafts will involve an expansion team picking from the “original 30” NHL clubs.
For players to be eligible for selection, they must have completed their third season under an NHL contract. The 30 teams will all have two options for player protection:
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  • 1 goalie, 3 defensemen, 7 forwards
  • 1 goalie, 8 skaters (defensemen & forwards in any combination)
(Players with no-move clauses are automatically protected unless they agree to waive that protection. No-trade clauses have no impact on the expansion draft.)
Teams are required to expose at least the following assortment of players that are eligible for selection:
  • 1 goalie, either under contract for 2021-22 or a pending restricted free agent who has been tendered a qualifying offer
  • 1 defenseman, under contract for 2021-22, who has played either 27+ games in 2020-21 or 54 games combined between 2019-20 and 2020-21
  • 2 forwards, under contract for 2021-22, who has played either 27+ games in 2020-21 or 54 games combined between 2019-20 and 2020-21
Here’s how the Flames are looking positionally.

Goaltenders

Exempt: Artyom Zagidulin, Dustin Wolf
Meet Exposure Requirement: Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Parsons (RFA)
Protected: Markstrom
Markstrom has a no-move clause that the Flames won’t ask him to waive – he just signed here! – while Parsons is a pending RFA who they will qualify.
If the Flames wanted to trade David Rittich prior to the trade deadline, it would have zero impact on their requirements for the expansion draft.

Defensemen

Exempt: Alexander Yelesin, Connor Mackey, C.J. Lerby, Johannes Kinnvall, Juuso Valimaki, Colton Poolman
Meet Exposure Requirement: Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, Mark Giordano, Chris Tanev, Oliver Kylington (RFA)
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Protected: Hanifin, Andersson, one of Giordano or Tanev
Hanifin and Andersson are slam-dunks to protect.
Here’s the first real decision for the Flames’ front office to make: expose Giordano or expose Tanev. On one hand, Giordano is the team’s captain and a former Norris Trophy winner. He used to be awesome and he’s now still decent, albeit nowhere near what he once was. But Tanev is seven years younger than Giordano and has been way more effective than the Flames’ captain on the ice. The thought process behind exposing either of them is pretty simple: they both carry big cap hits and they’re north of 30, so that might scare Seattle away.
But if you dangle Tanev, you potentially lose him for the cost of keeping a 38-year-old Giordano coming off a fairly thumbs-in-the-middle season. While exposing your team’s captain seems incredibly awkward, it might be the smart move given where Tanev and Giordano are trending this season.
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Kylington would need to be re-signed to fully meet the exposure requirement, but since the Flames would already be exposing somebody with a contract in Giordano or Tanev, it wouldn’t be necessary so likely the Flames merely qualify Kylington and wait to see how expansion shakes out.

Forwards

Exempt: Connor Zary, Emilio Pettersen, Jakob Pelletier, Luke Philp, Eetu Tuulola, Adam Ruzicka, Martin Pospisil, Dmitry Zavgorodniy
Meet Exposure Requirement: Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Milan Lucic, Elias Lindholm, Sam Bennett (RFA), Andrew Mangiapane, Dominik Simon (RFA), Dillon Dube
Protected: Tkachuk, Gaudreau, Monahan, Backlund, Lindholm, Mangiapane and Dube
Alright, there’s a lot of ground to cover here…
The expectation is that Lucic will waive his no-move clause and be allowed to be exposed. The Flames spoke with Lucic and his representation before he waived his no-move to allow the trade from Edmonton and it’s inevitable that this was mentioned and it seems unlikely that the Flames would have pulled the trigger on the trade without assurances – effectively, the framing was probably “hey, we’ll save you from floundering in Edmonton, but you need to do us this favour.” There have been no official confirmations of this theory, but it makes a lot of sense.
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So who will be the other player exposed to meet requirements? Bennett and Simon would both need to be re-signed to do so, which potentially gives Bennett’s camp a bit of leverage. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flames keep playing Brett Ritchie and then sign him to a one year deal. Ritchie needs to dress in 16 of the Flames’ final 22 games to meet the requirements, and re-upping him on a league minimum deal would allow them to avoid having to go through another negotiation with Bennett’s camp as a necessity. Heck, they could even explore trading Bennett. (Regardless, probably the Flames look towards signing Simon or Ritchie to meet the second player requirement.)
Barring any trades in the interim, the seven forwards it makes the most sense to protect are Tkachuk, Gaudreau, Monahan, Backlund, Lindholm, Mangiapane and Dube. Gaudreau and Monahan will be part of trade rumours perpetually, but as long as they’re Flames property they’ll be protected. I’ve seen some theories that the Flames might expose Backlund, but despite his age (he just turned 32) he’s quite effective and with one (or both) of Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary pushing for NHL gigs next season, having Backlund around to mentor them as youngsters the way he was able to do for Tkachuk and others makes a lot of sense.
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Sum it up

The long and the short of it is this: the Flames can explore trades for Rittich and Bennett prior to the trade deadline without it really causing any undue reworking of their expansion draft strategies.
The only real stressful decision the Flames need to make expansion-wise is whether to expose Giordano or Tanev.
If I’m Seattle GM Ron Francis, I’m trying to decide between selecting Bennett or Kylington to join the Kraken.