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2 trades between Calgary and Vancouver have defined each team’s season

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
20 days ago
When the 2023-24 season started, many fans of the Calgary Flames had a level of anxiety regarding the many pending unrestricted free agents on the team. More specifically, those fans were anxious of the possibility of doubling down on a team that hadn’t made the playoffs consistently – let alone made much noise once they got in.
This is the context in which many fans rejoiced when the Flames made a pair of key mid-season trades with their bitter rivals, the Vancouver Canucks.
In a few ways, those trades have defined each club’s season: a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” mindset for the Canucks and a “stick to the plan” strategic sell-off for the Flames.
The Zadorov trade was the first move made in-season by first-year Flames general manager Craig Conroy, coming nearly three weeks after Zadorov’s agent, Dan Milstein, made social media comments following a Flames game in Toronto that contributed to rumours and media attention regarding Zadorov’s future in Calgary.
The scuttlebutt from the league’s media insiders was that the Flames were set on moving Zadorov when they felt it was the right time. On Nov. 30, they finally pulled the trigger, moving Zadorov to the Canucks in exchange for a 2026 third-round pick and a conditional 2024 fifth-round pick. (That fifth-round selection was subsequently flipped before the trade deadline to San Jose for blueliner Nikita Okhotiuk.)
Zadorov has maintained his scoring pace with the Canucks, with his 12 points in 43 Vancouver outings matching well with his six points in 12 Calgary games. Moving Zadorov and not taking back an NHL player in the deal gave the Flames salary cap flexibility, which eventually allowed them to activate Oliver Kylington from their long-term injury reserve two months later without losing a player off their roster. In the interim period, the Flames were able to give some younger players some NHL experience. It’s yet to be seen what Okhotiuk will become in the Flames system, but at the very least his acquisition has given the Flames some defensive depth.
On Jan. 31, during the NHL’s All-Star break, the Flames made their second swap with the Canucks of the season, sending forward Elias Lindholm to Vancouver in exchange for a 2024 first-round pick, a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick, forward Andrei Kuzmenko, and defensive prospects Hunter Brzustewicz and Joni Jurmo.
Both Lindholm and Kuzmenko have experienced growing pains in their new homes. Lindholm has eight points over 21 games, playing primarily on Vancouver’s third line, after 32 points in 49 games in Calgary. Kuzmenko has missed time due to illness and injury and posted eight points in 15 games, keeping roughly on pace with his 21 points in 43 games in Vancouver. The Flames recently signed Brzustewicz to an entry-level deal, as well, and he’s in the midst of a very impressive season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers.
Of course, the regular season isn’t how the trades will be judged by either club. For the Canucks, the moves were all about the post-season. Sure, they sent out two picks, a struggling roster player and four draft picks for two players that could walk as free agents in a few months. But if they walk after a long playoff run, they’ll likely be deemed successes in Vancouver.
Similarly, in Calgary, it’s all about the futures. If Brzustewicz can turn into a good pro over the next few seasons and they utilize their three remaining draft picks from the trades to acquire high-end young players that can help the team on the other end of its retooling process, the two swaps will be given thumbs-ups from Flames brass.
On either side of the Rockies, though, the trades seemed to be what each team needed to be doing – and what each fanbase had been clamouring for. A strong Canucks team bet on itself by adding players for the here and now, while a middling Flames team decided to bet on its future by moving players for picks and prospects.
Sometimes trades work out for both teams and, at first blush, it seems quite probable that both clubs will look back on this season’s pair of trades positively in years to come.
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