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What should the Calgary Flames do with Elias Lindholm?

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Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Munnich
9 months ago
Elias Lindholm has been better than anyone could had hoped for when the Calgary Flames acquired him on a draft day trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.
He is the most prominent of the seven 2024 unrestricted free agents on the Flames roster. What the Flames decide to do with him could alter the course of the Flames franchise for the next number of seasons. What should the Flames do with Lindholm?

Reasons to keep Lindholm

He is an outstanding player
Lindholm is a fantastic hockey player. He is one of the few players that can make an impact on every facet of the game. He plays first line minutes at 5-on-5 and plays against top players on the opposition. He plays on the Flames first power play unit. And he is part of the Flames first penalty kill unit alongside Mikael Backlund.
He does all that while producing offence at a high level. Here is Lindholm’s production over an 82-game pace in his five seasons with the Flames.
SeasonGoalsAssistsPoints
2018-19275279
2019-20342963
2021284169
2021-22424082
2022-23234366
His production dropped last season as it was his first year away from Johnny Gaudreau. But he might be able to get back to those levels if he and Jonathan Huberdeau can find some chemistry together. For no good reason, Darryl Sutter split up Huberdeau and Lindholm early in the 2022-23 season. Hopefully the new head coach will have the foresight to put the Flames best winger and centre together for more than seven games.

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He is the Flames best centre in the last 28 years
Lindholm is the best centre the Flames have had on their roster since Joe Nieuwendyk. That shows you what a difficult time Calgary has had finding centres over the last 30 years.
With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves how are the Flames going to replace Lindholm. If history has taught us any lessons, it’s that the Flames have a very difficult time finding high end centres. Guys like Lindholm are nearly impossible to replace unless you draft one.
I’ve mentioned this a few times, but the Flames don’t have anyone in their system who projects to be a number one centre. Connor Zary has the potential to be an NHL player, but likely not at the level of a Lindholm.

What would an extension look like?

Mike Gould wrote about this a couple months ago and did a great job coming up with comparable contracts for Lindholm. I will steal his list for this article.
PlayerContract
Dylan Larkin8 Years $8.7 million AAV
Bo Horvat8 Years $8.5 million AAV
Mika Zibanejad8 Years $8.5 million AAV
Rope Hintz8 Years $8.45 million AAV
Tomas Hertl8 Years $8.14 million AAV
(Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly and Mike Gould)
It’s pretty clear that Lindholm is going to command an eight-year contract with an AAV between $8M-$9M.

Reasons not to sign Lindholm

Committing a lot of term and money to an old core
I wrote about the concerns I have about the Flames committing so much term and money to older players last week. Check that out for a deep dive on that topic.
With that in mind, should the Flames commit a significant chunk of term and salary cap space in this core group?
Calgary already has 42% of their salary cap tied up in Huberdeau, Kadri, MacKenzie Weegar. Jacob Markstrom and Blake Coleman. All players who are on the wrong side of 30 or very close to being there. If you add Lindholm to that group that would mean that over 50% of your salary cap is committed to six older players.
Can the Flames win a Stanley Cup with that much money tied up in this core? If you commit to Lindholm you’re committing to him, Huberdeau, Kadri and Weegar has your core for the next six seasons.
You could get a huge return in a trade
Whether it’s a futures-based trade, or a hockey trade, the Flames could get a lot of high quality assets in return for their star centreman.
Some examples of trade returns for someone of Lindholm’s calibre are:

Trade 1 

To Toronto: Ryan O’Reilly & Noel Acciari
To St Louis: 2023 First-Round Pick, 2023 Third-Round Pick, 2024 Second-Round Pick, Mikhail Abramov, Adam Gaudette
 

Trade 2

To New York Islanders: Bo Horvat
To Vancouver: 2023 First-Round Pick, Aatu Raty, Anthony Beauvillier
 

Trade 3

To Las Vegas: Jack Eichel
To Buffalo: 2022 First-Round Pick, 2023 Second-Round Pick, Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs
 

Trade 4

To Florida: Sam Reinhart
To Buffalo: 2022 First-Round Pick, Devon Levi
 
The Flames could use the assets they receive to replenish their depleted prospect system or use the assets to bring in a top six centre who is on the trade market.
I wonder if the Flames could make a trade with teams like Washington, St Louis, or Detroit for their 2023 first round pick and maybe another asset.

What should the Flames do with Lindholm?

Guys like Lindholm are incredibly difficult to come by. So, you’d think the obvious answer to this question would be to extend him.
But given his age (he’ll be 29 by the time an extension kicks in) and where the Flames stand from a competitiveness standpoint both now and in the future, the best move would be to explore what a trade could look like.
Are the Flames going to win a Stanley Cup in the next 4-6 years with the core group that they have? Or do they need to draft and develop their next core? A Lindholm trade could go a long way in establishing a new core group of young players with the draft picks you could get for him.
This is the most important on ice decision the Flames have to make between now and the 2024 trade deadline. Extend or trade Lindholm? I don’t envy the new GM who has to make that choice.
What do you want to see the Flames do with Elias Lindholm? Let us know in the comments section!
Check our 2024 UFA profiles here: Mikael Backlund, Nikita ZadorovNoah HanifinTyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev

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