A look back at the Calgary Flames at the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and what it could mean for the Seattle Kraken in 2021

We are just weeks away from the Seattle Expansion Draft, where the Kraken will officially select one player from each team (other than Vegas) to build the NHL’s 32nd team. While the Calgary Flames are mostly ready for this year’s draft, they do have some big questions to answer. As we prepare for the upcoming draft, it’s a good opportunity for us to look back at the last time that the Flames went into an expansion draft, when the Vegas Golden Knights joined the NHL. Let’s break down what happened.

Who the Flames protected in the 2017 NHL expansion draft

Like most teams, the Flames opted to protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a netminder. Here is who they ended up protecting:

Wow, this is a list! Of the players that the Flames protected just four years ago, only four remain. Sam Bennett was traded to Florida this season after a tumultuous tenure with the Flames. Curtis Lazar–once a promising prospect–was acquired from the Ottawa Senators for a second round pick back in 2017 but failed to impress. He was ultimately left unsigned after his contract ended. Michael Frolik was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for a fourth round pick, which ended up become Russian netminding prospect Daniil Chechelev.

Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton were traded along with Adam Fox for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, while Brodie signed at the beginning of this past season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last but not least, Smith infamously became the netminder of the Flames’ rival, the Edmonton Oilers.

In fairness to the Flames, they were just beginning to open their playoff window and saw their season end with a 4-0 series loss to the Anaheim Ducks. However in retrospect, having chosen to protect Lazar and Bennett is a good sign that the team was quite weak relative to where they are today. While not perfect, the Flames have definitely come a long way since then.

Who the Flames exposed in the 2017 NHL expansion draft

Going into the draft, the Flames exposed the following players

This is… not a great list. Only one of these players is still with the Flames and that is Michael Stone, who has been a serviceable seventh defenceman over the last number of years. The remainder is a hodgepodge of NHLers, KHLers, and Sportsnet commentators.

Of the players still in the NHL, Brian Elliott is a netminder with the Philadelphia Flyers and has been for awhile, but he will be looking for a new contract this offseason. Bartkowski played just one NHL game this season with the Minnseota Wild, spending the majority of the season with their AHL affiliate. Wotherspoon also spent the year in the AHL, putting up six points for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, while Bollig put up 14 points split between the San Jose Barracuda and Milwaukee Admirals.

Once an NHL-ready defenceman with the Flames, Kulak just could not find a home with the Flames. He is currently with the Montreal Canadiens, playing as a second pairing defenceman. Chiasson meanwhile has had some success with the OIlers, bouncing up and down their lineup as needed.

Outside of the NHL, Bouma played this season with IK Oskarshamn in the SHL while McCollum and Culkin played this season in the IceHL with HC Innsbruck and Bratislava Capitals respectively. Smid went back to the Czech Republic, plying his trade with Bili Tygri Liberec, and Emile Poirier is in neighbouring Slovakia with HC Kosice. Shinkaruk is also overseas, playing in the KHL with the Kunlun Red Stars, while Vey is in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg.

Kostka bounced around the AHL and Europe before retiring, and now works as a culture and performance consultant. Hamilton meanwhile retired as well and is now a revenue generation specialist with the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games. Versteeg and Brouwer are regular parts of Sportsnet’s broadcasts for Flames games, while Stajan is doing some work with the Flames’ alumni association.

The Golden Knights’ selection from Calgary

Deryk Engelland, who was an unrestricted free agent at the time, ended up being selected. He signed a one-year, $1 million dollar deal to go back to teh city he was all too familiar with. This worked out very well for the Golden Knights, as Engelland was able to rally the city behind the team, especially in the wake of the tragic Vegas Shooting in 2017. He would go on to play the next three seasons with the Knights before announcing his retirement and transitioning to a role within the organization.

This was probably a best-case scenario for both sides. Purely from a hockey perspective, the Golden Knights could have done better selecting Kulak or Chiasson in retrospect. However, Kulak only played in 21 NHL games that season, recording just three assists, and did not have the track record to justify a pick like that. Chiasson was on a cheap contract and could play up and down the lineup, but it did not feel like much of a fit there.

Engelland may not have been the best hockey decision, but it was a “good in the room” decision, and a decision that the team definitely does not regret. It was also best case scenario for the Flames, not only because they did not end up losing a key part of their team, but also because it opened up a spot on the middle pairing, which the Flames filled with Travis Hamonic. While not perfect, he was a clear upgrade at the position from Engelland.

Storied players in the upcoming Seattle Draft

The biggest thing that it tells us is that hockey teams are more than just fancy stats. There is a human element to the game that sometimes gets missed. Be it something complex to measure like a player’s value in the room or a player that can be marketed broadly to create buy-in and sell jerseys, this is a consideration that teams take into account all the time.

In the upcoming draft, the Flames will have three of these types of players available in Milan Lucic, Derek Ryan, and one of either Mark Giordano or Chris Tanev. Lucic, the Vancouverite, has been well-received by both the organization and fans since the team traded for him in 2019. Although he does have a hefty contract, he would provide much needed veteran leadership to what is expected to be a young core in Seattle.

Selecting Ryan would be more similar to the Engelland selection, as Ryan hails out of Spokane. He may not the best player available but he is still a high-value bottom-pairing centre who can play up the lineup as needed. Not only is he one heck of a player, he is the type of player that teams can rally around. While he is on an expiring contract, going back to his home state would be a great story for the team to tell their new fans as to why they should come out and support the team. A feel good story no doubt.

Whether the Flames opt to protect Tanev, or more likely Giordano, the Kraken will take a long hard look at this situation. Both players bring a veteran leadership approach, both are strong defencemen. Even on his worst day Giordano is still a second pairing defenceman in this league, and both will give fans a reason to come out and support their team. Giordano is a long-time NHL captain, and will help the team to gel together, and worst case scenario, he is on an expiring contract which the team can flip at the deadline for additional support going into the 2022–23 season. There are a lot of intangibles that could make him an interesting choice for Seattle.

Analytics plays a huge role for Seattle

However, it’s not just about the stories. Seattle is highly data-driven. They’re going to be one of the most data-forward front offices in the league right off the bat. Ron Francis, the Kraken’s general manager, has a track record of using data to make decisions after employing Eric Tulsky to be an integral part of the Caroline Hurricanes as a data analyst back when Francis was the Hurricanes’ GM.

Alexandra Mandrycky was brought in as the director of hockey strategy and research, Namita Nandakumar and Dani Chu joined as quantitative analysts, to name a few of the Kraken’s analytics task force. Rest assured they will be working with scouts and more to really give themselves the best shot at making the right decisions.

Top candidates for Seattle from the Flames from the analytics perspective would be whoever between Giordano and Tanev the Flames leave exposed (though again, Giordano’s age will be a factor). Similarly, Ryan has great underlying numbers that makes him almost a match made in heaven for the story and for the stats.

Even still, there is a good chance that the Kraken go younger, selecting a player like Oliver Kylington or Matthew Phillips, neither has really made a mark at the NHL level, and there is far more risk selecting a young player who hasn’t made it than an established, proven NHLer.

Seattle’s selections

The Kraken are building out their franchise, which means building an on-ice product that fans will buy-in to right away, not three years down the road. That means not only winning, but crafting storylines that get people to come out and watch the games. Vegas is a great example of a team that did this incredibly successfully.

Expect Seattle to make similar moves at their upcoming draft. The roster they ice on opening night has a good chance to turn heads, just given what we already know about the Kraken’s front office. The Flames have a few players that fit the bill, but we won’t know the full picture until the expansion draft comes around. In any case, the Pacific will be home to two expansion teams, so the Kraken will always have the success of the Golden Knights as the benchmark.