It was a polarizing move when the Calgary Flames traded Dougie Hamilton in the offseason. There were many supporters on either side of the deal, and the main criticism was that the Flames, a team in need of improvement in almost every aspect of their roster, had just traded away one of their top pairing defenders (who just happened to lead the league in goals by blue-liners the previous season).
Not to mention the loss of Micheal Ferland, a gritty winger who had the most success on the top line since Jiri Hudler‘s 2015 campaign, and blue chip prospect Adam Fox. In return, two unsigned restricted free agents in Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm, both of whom had underwhelming results through their careers so far. It didn’t look good at the time.
Forty-five games into their first season after the big trade, the Flames are looking like the big winners, almost exclusively because of the incredible season by Lindholm so far. Throw in the fact that the Hurricanes are reportedly listening to offers for Hamilton and Ferland, you can even hear sweet music if you listen hard enough.
Going back the past five seasons, one of the most glaring holes on this Flames team was the top line right wing spot. Outside of Hudler, that slot in the lineup was a revolving door, with almost every forward on the team getting a chance to play with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Really, their line was only two players with a plus-one along for the ride for basically their whole existence.
During that time, Gaudreau consistently flirted with the point-per-game mark, Monahan could be relied on to score 30 goals, and despite lacking a third threat, that line drove the Flames’ offence. One could only imagine what their production could be like with another top tier forward added to the right side.
Obviously, the biggest and most immediate positive impacts made by Lindholm was how seamlessly he’s fit with the Gaudreau-Monahan pair so far. Since game one, Lindholm was slotted in as the top right wing on the team and all he’s done in the 45 games since is prove, time and time again, that he deserves to stay there. Dissimilar to his predecessors on the right side of the top line, Lindholm’s game is far from just finishing off plays created by Gaudreau. He touches many more areas of the game, and he’s improved the Flames in a multitude of areas.
The easiest and most visible success of Lindholm’s time on the top line is his offence. Entering the season, his career highs over the course of a full season were 17 goals, 34 assists, and 45 points. Through 45 games, he has 21 goals, 30 assists, and 51 points. He’s already broken two of his career highs, and is about to break the third. If he is able to maintain his current scoring pace, he’ll finish the year with 38 goals, 55 assists, and 93 points. The production has been utterly obscene.
More than just the raw totals, Lindholm has surpassed his previous season high of 16 power play points with 18 so far this year, and is on pace to beat his season high of five shorthanded points. He’s also on pace to hit the 200 shot mark, well clear of his previous season high of 176.
His offence has helped his linemates as well, with both Gaudreau and Monahan on pace to break their season highs in goals, assists, and points. Lindholm has been all over the scoresheet this season and is a seemingly perfect fit next to Gaudreau and Monahan, who are both benefiting from the addition of Lindholm.
Beyond the points though, Lindholm also boasts impressive possession metrics. He’s a responsible player and drives offence. At this point of the season, he boasts a 56.5% CF, good for 20th in the NHL among players with 30 or more games played. He has also posted a 56.0% SCF and 54.7% HDCF.
Lindholm’s biggest asset might be his ability to play in all three zones. Out of all Flames forwards this season, none have played more minutes on the penalty kill than Lindholm. In fact, he ranks 18th in the entire NHL in penalty kill time-on-ice by forwards at 94:07, 18:15 more than the next highest Flames forward, Derek Ryan.
His efficient defensive work on the penalty kill also gives the Flames a lethal transition option, capable of creating offensive opportunities despite being a man down. Lindholm currently has three shorthanded points, good for the second most on the team and fourth most in the NHL.
Despite a high points total and playing on the Flames’ first line and first power play unit, Lindholm has been relied upon to play big minutes in the defensive zone as well. Out of all forwards in the NHL, Lindholm ranks 20th in total shifts started in the offensive zone, and 33rd in total shifts started in the defensive zone at 5v5. There are only six players in the league who rank in the top 35 in both categories, and Lindholm is one of just three wingers in that group.
The Faceoff Dot
One of the biggest goals for Bill Peters when he was hired as the coach of the Flames in the offseason was to have two faceoff threats on each line, preferably one for each side of the ice. Lindholm’s initial addition to the top line was partially for this reason, as his experience as a right-handed faceoff option balanced well with Monahan on the left when the team was in a situation where winning a draw was important. As the season has progressed, Peters has not used Lindholm sparingly in just key situations. Lindholm has taken 531 faceoffs, the 57th most faceoffs in the league, and doesn’t even play center on a nightly basis. Not only that, he’s won 54% of his draws this season.
In terms of Flames skaters with at least 50 faceoffs taken this season, Lindholm ranks third in total faceoffs, total faceoffs won, and faceoff percentage.
It’s clear at this point that Lindholm is the right wing piece the Flames had been missing since Jarome Iginla was traded. Lindholm’s done everything the Flames needed in all three zones, and has become one of the most reliable and exciting payers in the league. His addition to the Flames’ top line has created one of the most lethal trios in the game, and his ability to consistently provide quality minutes in all situations is an incredible asset to this team. At a cap hit of just $4.85M for the next six seasons, fans can look forward to watching Lindholm for many years to come.