Canucks Coffee: Is management flipping out over underachieving Lindholm?

Canucks considering flipping unrestricted free against to Bruins to help make multi-layered trade play for Penguins winger Jake Guentzel

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Good morning. Who wants some strong coffee?

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There’s just one special blend on the menu this morning. It’s robust and you’re going to need at least a cup or two, or maybe three, to sift through the latest NHL trade deadline speculation regarding the Vancouver Canucks.

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It threatened to steal the spotlight Tuesday in Los Angeles where the Canucks shut out the noise with an impressive 2-1 overtime victory over the Kings thanks to a 4-on-3 power play blast by J.T. Miller.

He joins Brendan Morrison and Daniel Sedin as the only franchise players to have at least nine regular-season overtime goals.

So, sip and savour. Here we go. Back to the trade drama.

We’re told to expect the unexpected in advance of the Friday trade deadline. Teams will play possum. Teams will play poker. Teams will get inventive.

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The Canucks fall into the latter category because president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford earned the ’Trader Jim’ moniker long before he landed on the West Coast.

Along with general manager Patrik Allvin, the management czar has massaged the roster, but his best work awaits before the Friday noon (Pacific) deadline.

In an ongoing quest to land a top-six winger, it could be a case of subtraction before addition. 

A report Tuesday said there have been conversations about flipping struggling forward Elias Lindholm, a pending unrestricted free agent, to the Boston Bruins. They lost the initial bidding war to the Canucks to pry the forward from the Calgary Flames.

Lindholm, 29, is on an expiring contract that carries a US$4.85 million cap hit.

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Penguins winger Jake Guentzel scores on Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin at UBS Arena on Dec. 27. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

The savings could help make a play for highly-coveted winger Jake Guentzel of the Pittsburgh Penguins. There would be lots of moving parts in the new development — and lots of drama — which plays right into Rutherford’s strengths.

If that wasn’t enough, Lindholm left Tuesday’s game in the first period after appearing to get tangled up in his own zone. Was he hurt? Was he being held out for a pending trade or to protect the asset? He returned in the second period.

Rutherford knows Guentzel has 34 goals in 58 playoff games, including four in six Stanley Cup Final outings. He’s a finisher on the biggest stage and doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. His 22 goals through 50 games this season seem like a warm-up for the second season.

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Meanwhile, Lindholm looks like a big swing and a miss.

Aside from scoring twice in his Canucks debut, he couldn’t find chemistry with Elias Pettersson at centre or wing.

He came as advertised with a faceoff and penalty kill presence, but is now a third-line pivot with just six points (4-2) in 15 games. Ilya Mikheyev, who hasn’t scored in 32 games, is on the second line. And Pius Suter is flanking Pettersson.

Lindholm arrived in a Jan. 31 trade that sent underachieving winger Andrei Kuzmenko, a 2024 first-round and conditional fourth-round draft picks, plus prospect defencemen Hunter Brzustewicz and Joni Jurmo to the Flames.

The fourth-rounder becomes a third if the Canucks advance to the Western Conference final and Lindholm plays half the games. That seems rather moot at the moment.

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Elias Lindholm celebrates his second goal of the game against the Hurricanes with Brock Boeser in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 6. Photo by Karl B DeBlaker /AP

Lindholm said all the right things to Postmedia upon arrival about the level of potential here.

“I’ve been around and it’s my 11th season,” he started. “Every year that goes by — it kind of flies by — and it’s not often you have a team like this and a chance to do something good.

“We had that one year in Calgary (111 points in 2021-22) that felt like we could win. 

“A lot of teams feel the same way and you need some luck along the way. A lot goes into doing something special and we have a lot of good pieces here. I’m excited to see what this group can do.”

Lindholm’s value as a complete player — centre, winger, faceoffs, power play and penalty kill — was expected to be vital in the Canucks’ quest to excel in the playoffs. Former Flames teammate Nikita Zadorov knew what Vancouver was getting and Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet was enamoured by the skill set.

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“When he’s at his best, I put him in the same category as (Aleksander) Barkov and (Sean) Couturier as two-way centres who can play against top lines,” Zadorov said of the fifth-overall draft pick by the Hurricanes in 2013.

Added Tocchet: “In pressure situations, you’re looking for smart players. He’s going to protect that back door and have his stick in the lane to deflect a puck, instead of it getting on net.

“And if there’s a rebound, he’s got his guy. It’s the little things.”

Those missing little things have added up to a big problem.

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