Kent Hughes and the Canadian received very good news Wednesday evening. The most coveted center on the trade market, Elias Lindholm, went from the Calgary Flames to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2024 first-round pick, forward Andrei Kuzmenko and two prospects drafted in the third round.
All eyes should now turn to Montreal where the consensual plan B, Sean Monahan, is located. With so many teams looking for an experienced center, Winnipeg, Boston, Colorado, New York, the CH can still hope to receive a first round pick for Monahan.
Let’s first set the record straight if I may. Even if Monahan has amassed three more points than Lindholm so far, 35 in 49 games, compared to 32 for the Swede – a possible 29-year-old unrestricted free agent like the CH center – he does not have the value of the other.
Lindholm is an established number one center. He averaged 72 points per season over the previous five years in Calgary. He had 82 points, including 42 goals, just two years ago.
Monahan has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons. His last year of more than 48 points was in 2018-2019, five years ago. He missed almost all of last year. He didn’t sign a modest one-year contract for nothing.
On the other hand, Monahan is finally having a good season, and he is healthy. He’s producing at a 59-point pace. He has an efficiency rate of 55% during faceoffs. He is effective on the power play. He is a leader with an impeccable work ethic. His salary of less than 2 million per season constitutes an undeniable asset for a club stuck by the ceiling.
Did the Canucks sacrifice so much for Lindholm? If they can keep his services after this year, no. Due to the Canucks’ advantageous position in the standings, the 2024 first-round pick will most likely be from 28e rank, even in the event of failure in the first round of the playoffs.
Winger Andrei Kuzmenko took the hockey world by surprise last year with 74 points, including 39 goals, in his first season in the National League, but he was struggling this winter, with only 21 points, including eight goals, in 43 games, including only two points in his last thirteen games.
Kuzmenko has been scratched six times this season. Otherwise, he was relegated to the fourth line by his coach Rick Tocchet. He was playing between ten and thirteen minutes per game recently. His contract of 11 million for two years, at an annual salary of 5.5 million, signed after his astonishing season last year, had already become heavy. All the better if he revives his career in Calgary, but for the Canucks, this is essentially a yard sale that could allow them to retain Lindholm in the long term.
Calgary receives two defensive prospects, Joni Jurmo and Hunter Brzustewicz. Jurmo, 21, was drafted in the third round in 2020. The 6-foot-5, 209-pound giant is still considered a project at his age due to the many flaws in his game. He went from Ilves, the leaders in the standings, to KooKoo, a bottom formation, in the Finnish first division, this winter, because he could not manage to playing regularly with Tampere. His chances of playing in the NHL remain very slim.
Brzustewicz, 19, drafted in the third round in 2023, is having a sensational season in Kitchener, with 69 points in just 47 games. He ranks third in scoring in the Ontario Junior League, all positions combined!
On the other hand, he was ignored by the American junior team in preparation for the World Championship a few weeks ago. His detractors wonder if he will be able to adapt to the NHL, because he sometimes gets outpaced on counter-attacks or in pursuit of the puck. It nevertheless remains an interesting hope.
In short, the Canucks get the most coveted player on the market for a late first round pick, without giving up their two gems, Jonathan Lekkerimäki or defenseman Tom Wallinder, while getting rid of an undesirable, Kuzmenko.
Lindholm finds himself in familiar surroundings, with a Swedish GM, Patrik Allvin, a Swedish star, Elias Pettersson, and the countrymen’s main team hopes as well. Convincing arguments to retain it.
The Flames are not losers, however. They were going to have to mourn Lindholm. Kuzmenko has talent and he could be reborn with a new coach. We get a first round pick. And who knows if Brzustewicz will not continue to surprise.
In this context, obtaining a late first round pick for Monahan would already be a significant acquisition.
Who will be next in Calgary?
Lindholm’s departure heralds a rebuild in Calgary, or at least a reset. Already, last summer, Tyler Toffoli, one year away from his full autonomy, was traded to the Devils for Yegor Sharangovich, 25 years old. This is a pleasant surprise with 35 points, including 20 goals, in 49 games.
Four of the Flames’ six defensemen will be eligible for full free agency at the end of the season, including Noah Hanifin and Christopher Tanev. GM Craig Conroy should be able to amass additional first and second round picks, and perhaps a prospect or two.