The Calgary Flames should sign Elias Lindholm to a long term extension

Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
10 months ago
Earlier this week, FlamesNation’s Robert Munnich wrote about why the Calgary Flames should not shell big bucks for many years for centre Elias Lindholm. In his piece, Robert went into detail regarding the Flames’ salary structure and how many dollars (and years) they have tied up with players on the wrong side of the age of 30.
Robert’s completely correct in his assessment, but I think the Flames should (and probably will) sign Lindholm to a big-money, long-term deal anyway. Let’s get into why.
If you sit down, have a beverage, and write out the history of the Flames’ franchise and its most excellent players, what position is leanest? If you look through the NHL’s list of year-end all-stars (as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association), some patterns emerge:
In terms of goaltenders, Miikka Kiprusoff and Hall of Famer Mike Vernon are prominent. On the blueline, there are classic heroes like Al MacInnis and Gary Suter, and more recently guys like Robyn Regehr, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano. On right wing, there’s Lanny McDonald, Joe Mullen, Hakan Loob, Theoren Fleury and Jarome Iginla. On left wing, there’s Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk.
But historically, the Flames have had a devil of a time finding high-end centres. Yes, they found Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk and got a ton of great years out of him before his departure to Dallas. But aside from perhaps Sean Monahan – a really talented scorer who usually needed somebody with a bit of two-way prowess on his line – the Flames have been incredibly lean on top-flight centres arguably since Nieuwendyk’s departure.
And that, folks, is a good reason why Lindholm is so highly valued by the folks on Saddledome Rise. He’s the type of centre that hockey brass – not just in Calgary, but likely everywhere – dream about. He can score goals. He can make good passes. He can win face-offs. He makes smart plays in all three zones. He can kill penalties. He can contribute on the power play. He’s the type of player coaches trust to put on the ice late in games, whether they need to score a goal to tie or prevent a goal to win.
Since arriving in Calgary in 2018, by Evolving Hockey’s goals above replacement (GAR) metric, Lindholm is the 33rd-best forward in the NHL and 40th-best skater – they estimate his impact at 55.1 GAR, or 9.8 wins above replacement. By that metric, he’s the best of the club’s current crop of veteran centres and he trails only Jonathan Huberdeau in GAR among current Flames. (He’s slightly ahead of Nazem Kadri in GAR during this period.)

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When you consider the reported contract offer to Lindholm from the Flames – eight years at around $8.5-9 million annually – it fits neatly in between Huberdeau and Kadri’s cap hits, and is fairly proportionate when you consider the recent performances and impacts the three players have had. And when you consider that Craig Conroy’s predecessor as GM, Brad Treliving, highly emphasized building a team through the middle – goaltenders, centres and blueliners – locking up the team’s best centre for the long run seems practical.
In terms of tangible metrics that data types value and intangible things valued by more traditional hockey types, Lindholm ticks all the boxes. And the Flames are a group that tends to listen to both of hockey’s solitudes and take them into account when making signing decisions; when Mikael Backlund was re-upped in 2018, it was reportedly at the tail-end of a lengthy analysis by the Flames’ front office that detailed how challenging it would be to replace Backlund’s impacts. It’s not difficult to imagine a similar conversation happening within their front office in regards to Lindholm.
Lindholm is the complete centre the Flames had been dreaming of having since the day Nieuwendyk headed to Texas. Locking him up with a long-term deal keeps the team’s best centre in the fold and continues the team-building philosophy that’s worked, for the most part, for the past decade.
Yes, the Flames have a few of players signed to lengthy deals. Yes, some of those deals run well past those players’ 30th birthdays. And yeah, it seems unlikely that all of those deals will look incredibly favourable by the end of them – and it makes them dependent on the salary cap going up to have internal flexibility. But Lindholm is a really good player and he would be really difficult to replace.
If the Flames want to remain a competitive team in their division and conference, and all indications suggest that’s their goal, it’s crucial that Lindholm remains part of their team long-term.

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