Written by Eric Duhacek, Sheena Goldman, and Corey Broman
Get Canucks: F Elias Lindholm
Flames get: F Andriy Kuzmenko, a 2024 first-round pick, D Hunter Brzustewicz, D Joni Jurmo and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick.
Eric Duhacek: There's a strange notion in the NHL that fierce rivals won't trade each other, a fact that has been disproved several times recently, including once earlier this season. That's when the Canucks and Flames made their first trade of the year, with Vancouver acquiring Nikita Zadorov from the Flames, and Calgary settling for third- and fifth-round picks in exchange. Most of them didn't like the deal at the time. Most have only reluctantly come to acknowledge its decent value over time.
It is also the way the last transaction between the two teams should be evaluated.
Canucks acquire Lindholm from Flames in exchange for Kuzmenko
In the short term, it helps the Canucks tremendously. If Lindholm was the No. 1 center on the market this year, the Canucks would have signed him, five weeks before the NHL trade deadline, without giving up a contributing player to the roster. It goes back to another deal made about a year ago, when the Canucks traded the No. 1 center available at the 2023 deadline, Bo Horvat, to the New York Islanders, in exchange for a starter, player and prospect. .
But Horvat had a stellar year with Vancouver, so his value was high. Lindholm had a less effective year for Calgary, as his goal numbers dropped a lot, although his reputation remains good. At his best, he can be one of the most effective midfielders in the league. Good in the confrontation circle. Good at killing penalty kicks. Some years, it comes up in Silk Cup conversation – but not this year.
But Lindholm adds an element to Vancouver's squad that they could use, if not desperately need. Someone who can play in the top nine and has the versatility, if necessary, to shift to the right wing, which is where his career began in Calgary. For Vancouver, this is a clear sign that the Canucks believe this year's surge is no fluke and that their chances of making some noise in the playoffs are as good as anyone else's.
Lindholm was arguably the most coveted talent available at the deadline — and Vancouver took him off the market with five weeks to go. It's a nice feather in their cap — and speaks to how the relationship between two relatively inexperienced general managers, Patrik Alvin of the Canucks and Craig Conroy of the Flames, has developed so quickly.
But Calgary also performed well. First round in 2024. Conditional fourth round in 2024. Additionally, there are two possibilities, both interesting, perhaps Brzustewicz more so than Jurmo, and then Kuzmenko, the more obvious and known producer, who is struggling with mediocrity. Second NHL season after a very good debut in the NHL.
And in Kuzmenko, the Flames are hoping to find another player who needs a change of scenery.
Remember how much criticism the Flames got when they selected Yegor Sharangovich from the New Jersey Devils, plus a third baseman for Tyler Toffoli? It took some time, but eventually the trade paid off nicely for Calgary. You can easily imagine a scenario where Sharangovich and Kuzmenko develop some chemistry and could be a top-six pick for a Flames team that is trying to get some younger players and prospects into their everyday NHL lineup.
Conroy also made it clear that he would be happy to open up to prospects about draft picks and that's what Brzustewicz looks like. Drafted 75th overall last June, in the third round of the 2023 draft, the 19-year-old has tallied 69 points in 47 games for OHL Kitchener this year, impressive numbers for a right-handed defenseman. You don't have to watch Calgary long these days to understand their desperate need for someone to fill the power-play quarterback role.
In theory, this is what Brzostojevic will eventually become. Jormu was a third-rounder, selected in 2020 and currently playing in Finland, and has a big frame — 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds.
Some may wonder if Conroy had waited, could he have gotten a bigger package? But as was the case when he shopped Zadorov earlier this season, he told teams what it would take to get the deal done; If the bidders were lukewarm, it went in a different direction.
I personally like this approach – especially coming from a first-year GM. Determine your price. Hold on tight. Make the best deal possible. But stick to your guns, which sends a message to his new peers.
Recently, Conroy and I talked at length about operating philosophy, and he made this point to me: While everyone on social media wants every deal to be a clear win, the goal is to reach a fair deal, which – in theory – helps both teams meet. Whatever their specific goals are at the moment. This has a chance to do that. Vancouver's hopes of landing a Stanley Cup get a huge boost, especially if Lindholm — who is in a contract year — has the drive to prove he can be an elite contributor, because he clearly wants to get paid as an elite contributor. Calgary gets a little for today — and, in theory, a lot for tomorrow. Fair, in other words.
Canucks Grade: B
Flame degree: B
Sheena Goldman: Credit the Canucks for making a bold stance sooner rather than later. Not only is the team relying on a strong start to continue the second half, they are actively working on improving the team to improve their chances when it matters most. Vancouver is absolutely right to go all out. This is the kind of season to invest in.
Lindholm is a perfect fit for the Canucks. This team could really use the boost the mids have to offer. He is a versatile center who can be relied upon in all situations, against top opponents.
The only red flag is that his form has declined over the past two years since his peak in 2021-22, and his goals have declined this season. But Vancouver should feel very confident of a rebound. Lindholm won't shoot below 7 percent forever and should start to capitalize on his chances at a higher clip in the second half of the season. Additionally, the Canucks don't expect him to come in and perform like the high-end first-line center the Flames needed — he'll move comfortably behind Elias Pettersson on the second line. Between that equal-strength role, and him likely having some time in top power play, he should get more support than he did in Calgary this year.
If that bounce doesn't happen, Vancouver won't be shutting down after this season, anyway. Management didn't sign him to an immediate extension and he overcommitted to bat, which is for the better considering Lindholm's potential demand, long-term trajectory, and the Canucks' cap situation.
From the Canucks' standpoint, the return is relatively steep for a player on a down year. But it's not too far off from the Horvat and Ryan O'Reilly trades of the past, either. Vancouver added the best player on the market to fit the needs of their position, which will add value to this roster. There is still time (and assets) available to make any other necessary adjustments. Additionally, the return not only brought in Lindholm, it removed Kuzmenko's $5.5 million cap hit. That was pivotal for Vancouver, especially with costs rising next season.
Coming back to Calgary isn't perfect or overwhelming, but it's good. The Flames probably could have waited longer, as teams felt the need to improve heading into the deadline. But their influence may have waned by then too, because it had become very clear what their direction should be.
Calgary will almost certainly shed payroll on Kuzmenko. But perhaps he can rebound into a bigger role with the Flames than he had this season in Vancouver. It's unrealistic to think he'll hit nearly 27 percent again. But if he ends up somewhere between last season's highs and this year's disappointment, it could add some much-needed scoring for the Flames.
Calgary's highlight is 2024's first year. Brzustewicz is a solid addition as well. The Flames need young, up-and-coming players to be a part of this next era. Adding a mobile defenseman like Brzustewicz is smart since pending UFA Noah Hanifin will likely be on the move before the deadline — as long as he can develop into an NHL-caliber defenseman.
Canucks Grade: B+
Flame degree: B-
Corey Bronman: Lindholm is a great all-in-one centre. He skates well. He has a lot of individual skills. He can make plays, has a strong shot and has a strong two-way game up the middle. Although he is talented, he may not be the type of game-breaker to be a true 1C on the opposition, but he could be an excellent 2C for the Canucks. I'm a big believer in the Canucks. I like their group of goaltenders and skaters and think they have a real chance to win this season, so I'm all for pushing their chips forward. They command the highest rent on the market, which could help equalize their top-rated offense. More distinct from the pack. They are also coming off a bad contract with Kuzmenko, who has become completely replaceable in their lineup.
Kuzmenko is a very skilled striker. He's a tough competitor type as well and can create inside. Kuzmenko came out of the gates in his rookie season, but as a mid-sized skating winger who I wouldn't call an elite offensive type with the puck, he's fallen to the ground this season. He doesn't deserve the big deal Vancouver offered him, but Kuzmenko is one of the top nine forwards in the NHL and can play with power.
Brzustewicz is an extremely skilled puck-moving defenseman with elite vision and has been one of the best defensemen in the OHL this season. He skates well and can play fast which gives some confidence that his offense will translate to the pros. The concerns with his game are his average frame, average physique, and whether he will be able to stop at higher levels since his skating is not truly elite. These issues are why he was left out of Team USA's World Junior Team. I like the player, I think he can play in the NHL, but he's not sure about that.
Jurmo is an NHL prospect at this point, but he's a tough athlete, which is why he was a third-round pick in 2020. He's a big defenseman who skates very well for his size and has some skill. However, he doesn't have great hockey sense nor is he very competitive, making him a long shot.
I don't like that Calgary didn't get a real elite young asset in this deal even if it was for a rental. If you really believe in Brzustewicz as a top-four defense prospect, which a minority of NHL scouts do, you might think they do, but I'm not viewing it that way currently. The best Calgary gets is a late first-round pick and the hope of beating Kuzmenko with more opportunities. A great rental return is always disappointing, but this one in particular doesn't look great for the Flames.
Canucks Grade: B+
Flame degree: B-
(Photo by Elias Lindholm and JT Miller: Derek Cain/Getty Images)
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