For better or for worse, the Calgary Flames appear closer to signing Elias Lindholm than trading him away. Lindholm has come out publicly stating that he would be open to signing again with the Flames and Elliotte Friedman has reported that the numbers are beginning to come together on paper. This is a big move away from the world this summer where it felt much more like a coin flip.
While the fanbase around the Flames is decidedly mixed, it is the number that seems to be the biggest turn-off as opposed to Lindholm’s value to the team, with reports suggesting that the centre may be looking at between $8.5 and $9 million per season on a long-term deal. If those are the numbers, here is why the Flames should still make it happen.
Fit with the timeline
The Flames know that they are in build-mode currently, with the push to be a regular playoff team. Whether they ought to be or not is a different question, but the organization has made moves over the past three seasons to turn this team into a cup contender. From the acquisition of Jacob Markstrom, the first real starting goalies that the organization has had since Miikka Kiprusoff, to acquiring a game-breaking winger in Jonathan Huberdeau. They then went out and added elite defenceman MacKenzie Weegar and Stanley Cup winning center Nazem Kadri, and signed all four to long-term deals with movement protection.
Even if the Flames wanted to and even if all four performed above their expectation, the Flames would have to move heaven and earth to try and move any of these four players. You can look at this in one of two ways, either these four contracts are a boat anchor that is going to hold the organization back for the better part of this decade, or as a framework around which to build. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but given the contracts are immoveable, it makes far more sense to try and build around what you have than to try to tear down where the majority of your cap is tied.
The Flames are coming off of one of the best seasons in recent memory in 2021-22 and one of the darkest in some time in 2022-23. It is really hard to tell whether this team is a contender or a pretender at this point, but they are almost certainly much better than they showed last year. The key to this whole season hinges broadly on two players, Hubderdeau and Markstrom, being much better.
Whether it is in Lindholm or in another centre, the Flames need to find a guy who can play with their superstar winger and help him perform at his best. At 28-years-old, Lindholm is in the prime of his career, and has put up very good numbers with Huberdeau in limited minutes. Through just over 200 minutes together, the two posted a CF% of 54.5% and a HDCF of 59.3%. With a new coach and a new system it makes sense to try the two again.
Lindholm also adds value to Markstrom’s game. Finding a top-line centre is hard at the best of times, but finding one who can also be an effective two-way presence is even tougher. Lindholm thrives at both ends of the ice, and while he did not win, his second place finish in voting for the Selke Trophy in 2021-22 was very well deserved. If the Flames can get that from his game as well, they are in a really good place to cement their future.
Beyond that, the Flames are going to have a tough time trying to get equivalent value from Lindholm on the trade market. Acquiring elite centres in a trade is a hard sell to another team. There are not many centres who perform at the level that Lindholm does, at either end of the ice, and those that do are often not willing to be moved by the teams that they are at.
Furthermore, trying to move an expiring Elias Lindholm as an expiring contract would yield one of two options. Either one, the Flames move him between now and the deadline to a contending team. This would be a heavy futures-based return as contenders are often unwilling to part with key parts of their team. This does not solve the Flames’ current issue of building from their core and is anathema to their philosophy.
Either that or they trade him now on the last year of his deal, which is a high-risk proposition for teams without a guarantee that he signs again. The Flames could do a sign-and-trade option, but those are exceedingly rare and would require Lindholm, the Flames, and the new organization to be on the same page about the number and terms.
Making the best of the situation they are in
The Flames have forced themselves into this position by not locking Lindholm up sooner, and while we can all gripe about could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve, at this point, the Flames are better off keeping their pending free agent. Not only does he fit with the contracts that they have already signed, he helps build out the core of this team going forward.
From here, whether the Flames retain any of their other pending free agents, Noah Hanifin, Oliver Kylington, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, or Mikael Backlund, is a much smaller problem. They would have three elite forwards signed, Kadri, Lindholm, and Huberdeau, two strong defencemen, Weegar and Rasmus Andersson, and a goalie in Markstrom. Then coming down the pipeline you have Dustin Wolf in net who is ready for NHL starts as early as this season. It’s a matter now of finding the best complimentary pieces around this core going forward if they can lock up Lindholm.
Around the Flames, there has been a lot of talk about how the organization hasn’t had solid goaltending for the last decade, but we forget how hard it was for this team without a reliable centre before Sean Monahan (in his prime). It was arguably the biggest piece missing in the Iginla era. You cannot underestimate the importance of having reliability in that position, and while the Flames have been blessed to have had Monahan and Lindholm holding it down in that position for the last eight or so years, not having either going forward is a huge step back for the team.
It’s time to sign Elias Lindholm.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire