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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Elias Lindholm emerged as the Calgary Flames’ most lethal sniper in 2021–22

Elias Lindholm is the only member of the Calgary Flames’ top line under contract for the 2022–23 season.

Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk will undoubtedly both receive significant raises this summer, but there’s a decent case to be made that Lindholm is the Flames’ most underpaid player.

The 2022 Frank J. Selke Trophy runner-up just finished the fourth season on the six-year deal he signed with the Flames back in 2018. Lindholm makes an average of just $4.85 million per year on his current contract and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sign for twice that figure when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2024.

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How did Lindholm even get to be so underpaid? It’s a long story.

The past

The Carolina Hurricanes selected Lindholm fifth overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, one spot before the Flames took Sean Monahan. Lindholm immediately made the jump to the NHL with Carolina and played there from 2013 to 2018.

To put it mildly, Lindholm never really fit in with the Hurricanes. From a very young age, the ‘Canes used him similarly to how the Flames sometimes use Mikael Backlund, essentially making him their “fix-it player” — Lindholm was often given the task of moving to new lines to try and get his teammates going.

Carolina did this because they knew Lindholm was a skilled two-way player who could handle tougher assignments. Unfortunately for Lindholm, he never got much of a chance to establish much of a rapport with the Hurricanes’ top players.

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In 2017–18, his final season with the team, Lindholm played roughly as much with gritty bottom-six winger Brock McGinn as he did with Sebastian Aho and Jeff Skinner. He spent significant chunks of his season playing alongside the likes of Phil Di Giuseppe, Victor Rask, and Derek Ryan.

He was all over the place.

The Hurricanes traded Lindholm to Calgary in 2018 as part of the blockbuster Dougie Hamilton deal. Since then, Lindholm has spent pretty much all his time on the Flames’ top line — albeit with slightly changing personnel over the years — and has been able to focus on really refining some of the details of his game.

Lindholm immediately went from averaging around 18 minutes per game in Carolina to over 20 in Calgary. He started firing the puck way more and converting at the rate of a true NHL sniper.

And boy, did he look the part.

The present

Lindholm started his Flames tenure as the right wing next to Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on the team’s first line. Since then, he’s shifted over to become the centre between Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, both of whom require new contracts this summer.

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Even as he’s adjusted to the additional responsibilities of his new position (technically his old position — he’s a natural centre), Lindholm has continued to improve as an offensive weapon. He scored a career-high 42 goals in 2021–22, with 31 of them coming at even strength.

How many times did we see Lindholm score from this exact spot this year?

Lindholm had never even scored 30 goals in a season before this past year, let alone 30 goals solely during his time away from special teams. Plus, during his career-best offensive campaign, he earned his first Selke Trophy nomination.

Players like Lindholm don’t exactly grow on trees. He’s a versatile forward with a terrifying shot and the ability to play in pretty much any game situation.

The future

Lindholm still has two years left on his ultra-reasonable deal. By then, the Flames will be free from quite a few of their more costly financial commitments and shouldn’t have much trouble forking up the necessary cash to sign him.

It’s been fun to watch Lindholm lobby hard to bring some of his closest friends from Sweden to the Flames. Jacob Markstrom, Joakim Nordstrom, and Calle Jarnkrok all eventually wound up in Calgary to play with Lindholm, who appears to be the glue holding the Flames’ large Swedish contingent together. He just seems like a lot of fun.

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Lindholm is a cornerstone player and one of the faces of the franchise. He’s grown substantially since joining the Flames four years ago and could still have more to show.

If Gaudreau and Tkachuk return as his wingers next season, the sky is once again the limit for Lindholm and the Flames. Even if one or both don’t come back, there’s a pretty good chance Lindholm will still find success on another unit.

2021-22 Flames player evaluations

Johnny Gaudreau | Calle Jarnkrok | Matthew Tkachuk | Trevor Lewis | Jacob Markstrom | Dillon Dube

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