Calgary Flames

Why the Washington Capitals make sense as a destination for Elias Lindholm

As the 2023–24 trudges on, more rumours continue to swirl around the Calgary Flames organization and their unrestricted free agents. We’ve heard a lot surrounding Nikita Zadorov and his situation, based on his public trade request earlier this month. We are starting to hear a little bit more about Chris Tanev, with insiders connecting a ton of teams with interest in one or both of Zadorov and Tanev. We’ve heard about Noah Hanifin and his nixed extension number, and how contract talks between the Flames and his camp have walked away from one another.

However, there’s one big pending UFA’s name that we haven’t heard about yet: Elias Lindholm. We heard a few pieces throughout the summer and early in the season that there was a hold-up between Lindholm’s camp and the Flames camp on AAV. Now, it’s been close to radio silence. However, given insiders have reported the Flames are listening on their pending UFAs, I’d have to imagine that includes Lindholm as well.

The Washington Capitals make sense as a trade destination for Elias Lindholm

There are a plethora of teams that make sense for Lindholm. And there will be a ton of demand given Lindholm’s contract ($4.85M) and status around the league. A few teams not mentioned here are the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs, Arizona Coyotes, and Seattle Kraken. But the team I want to focus on today is the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals are red-hot, 8–1–1 in their last ten games. With Alex Ovechkin only getting older, the team must do everything in their power to try and make the playoffs and continue to grow Ovechkin’s goal total. The biggest reason the Capitals are a fit for Lindholm is the loss of Nicklas Backstrom for the season, and potentially his career:

Capitals have a need at centre

Obviously, Backstrom and Ovechkin have a magical connection spanning back years. But Backstrom was definitely tailing off prior to his injury. Kuznetsov is very sporadic and has requested a trade from the Capitals multiple times in the past. Lindholm fits with the Capitals’ age group and could be a complementary defensively focused piece next to Ovechkin, with a playmaker on their right. Washington has the cap space available to acquire Lindholm, thanks to Backstrom’s $9.2M sitting on LTIR. They have $7.25M in LTIR space available right now sitting at a full 23-man roster. So Calgary wouldn’t have to retain on Lindholm or take a bad cap hit back, unless Washington wants to maintain space to make further adds at the trade deadline.

Without Backstrom, the Capitals centre core looks like: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dylan Strome, Connor McMichael, and Nic Dowd. McMichael has done a fine job filling in, with seven points in 15 games. Hendrix Lapierre has also jumped into the centre mix recently with Kuznetsov out with injury. That’s not a terrible centre core, but one that could definitely be improved. By acquiring Lindholm, you can shift Kuznetsov and Strome down the lineup, and move McMichael back to the wing. That makes you that much of a deeper team.

Elias Lindholm should net a similar package to the Bo Horvat trade last year

There aren’t many instances of centres of Lindholm’s perceived value being moved. The only recent example is Bo Horvat being moved to the New York Islanders from the Vancouver Canucks last year. That trade package was as follows: Bo Horvat (25% retained) for Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty, and a 2023 first-round pick. That 25% retention was for Horvat to roughly equal Beauvillier’s deal. In the tight cap world, I would imagine something similar happens when the Flames trade some or all of their 2024 UFAs.

So, any Lindholm return should net close to a first-round pick, good prospect, and cap dump. The potential return could be boosted if the acquiring team can agree to an extension with Lindholm before the deal or has a good idea he’ll agree to one. The Capitals hold all of their first-round picks and have three second-round picks in 2025. They also possess some good young players (aforementioned McMichael and Lapierre) along with some prospects (Vincent Iorio, Andrew Cristall, Ivan Miroshnichenko) that could interest the Flames. I think something around WSH’s 2024 first-rounder, Iorio, and taking on Anthony Mantha as a cap dump could make sense. If the Flames target McMichael or Lapierre, maybe the trade revolves around one of those two and one of the 2025 second-rounders Washington holds.

Testing the markets

There are going to be a ton of suitors for Lindholm. He comes at a cheaper cap hit, and is still young enough that teams might view him as the piece to lock up long-term. One of the teams with a natural fit at centre right now is the red-hot Washington Capitals, who have young assets and draft capital the Flames will covet in any potential return.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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