By Eric Duhatschek, Shayna Goldman and Corey Pronman
Eric Duhatschek: There is a quaint notion in the NHL that fierce divisional rivals won’t make trades with each other, a fact that has been disproved many times recently, including once earlier this season. That’s when the Canucks and Flames made their first trade of the year, Vancouver getting Nikita Zadorov from the Flames, Calgary settling for third- and fifth-round picks in exchange. Most didn’t like the deal at the time. Most have grudgingly come to concede it’s decent value over time.
Which is also how the latest transaction between the two teams is going to need to be evaluated.
Canucks acquire Lindholm from Flames for Kuzmenko
In the short term, it helps the Canucks enormously. If Lindholm was the top center in the marketplace this year, then the Canucks landed him, five weeks ahead of the NHL trade deadline, without giving up a contributing player on the roster. It hearkens back to another deal made right around now a year ago, when the Canucks traded away the No. 1 center available at the 2023 deadline, Bo Horvat, to the New York Islanders, for a first-rounder, a player and a prospect.
But Horvat was having an excellent year for Vancouver, so his value was high. Lindholm was moping through a much less effective year for Calgary, his scoring numbers way down, even though his reputation remains good. At his best, he can be one of the most effective two-way centers in the league. Good in the faceoff circle. Good on the penalty kill. Some years, he’d be mentioned in the Selke Trophy conversation — though not this year.
But Lindholm adds an element to a Vancouver team that it can use, if not desperately need. Someone who can play in the top nine and has the versatility, if necessary, to shift to the right wing, which is where his Calgary career began. For Vancouver, it’s a clear signal that the Canucks believe this year’s surge is no fluke and that their chances of making some playoff noise are as good as anyone else’s.
Lindholm, arguably, was the most coveted talent available at the deadline — and Vancouver got him off the market with five weeks to go. It’s a nice feather in their cap — and speaks to how the relationship between two relatively inexperienced GMs, the Canucks’ Patrik Allvin and the Flames’ Craig Conroy, has developed quite rapidly.
But Calgary did well too. A first-rounder in 2024. A conditional fourth-rounder in 2024. Plus, two prospects, both of them intriguing, probably Brzustewicz more so than Jurmo, and then Kuzmenko, the most visible and thus known product, who is suffering through a mediocre second NHL season after a very good NHL debut.
In Kuzmenko, the Flames hope to have found another player in need of a change of scenery.
Remember how heavily the Flames were criticized when they picked up Yegor Sharangovich from the New Jersey Devils, plus a third-rounder, for Tyler Toffoli? It took time, but ultimately that trade has paid good dividends for Calgary. You can easily imagine a scenario in which Sharangovich and Kuzmenko develop some chemistry and can be top-six forwards on a Flames team that is trying to work some of their younger players and prospects into the everyday NHL lineup.
Conroy also made it clear that he would happily take prospects over draft picks and that’s what Brzustewicz looks like. Drafted 75th last June, in the third round of the 2023 draft, the 19-year-old has 69 points in 47 games for OHL Kitchener this year, spectacular numbers for a right-shot defenseman. You don’t have to watch Calgary for too long these days to understand its crying need for someone to quarterback the power play.
In theory, that’s what Brzustewicz will ultimately become. Jurmo was a third-rounder, chosen in 2020 and currently playing in Finland, who is a big body — 6-foot-3, 207 pounds.
Some might wonder if Conroy had waited, could he have gotten a larger package? But as was the case when he shopped Zadorov earlier this season, he let teams know what it would take to get the deal done; and if the bidders were lukewarm, then he went in a different direction.
I personally like that approach — especially when it comes from a first-year GM. Set your price. Hold firm. Make the best deal you can. But stick to your guns — which sends a message to his new peers.
Recently, Conroy and I spoke at length about operating philosophy, and he made this point to me: While everyone on social media wants every trade to be a clear win, the object is to make a fair deal, one that — in theory — helps both teams meet whatever their specific goals are in the moment. This has a chance to do just that. Vancouver’s Stanley Cup hopes get an enormous boost, especially if Lindholm — who is in a contract year — comes in motivated to prove that he can be an elite contributor, because he clearly wants to get paid as an elite contributor. Calgary gets a little something for today — and theoretically, a lot more for tomorrow. Fair, in other words.
Canucks grade: B
Flames grade: B
Shayna Goldman: Credit to the Canucks for going bold sooner than later. The team isn’t just banking on a strong start to carry it through the second half — they’re actively improving the team to better their chances when it matters most. Vancouver’s absolutely right to go all in. This is the type of season to invest in.
Lindholm is an ideal fit for the Canucks. This team really could use a middle-six boost that he should provide. He’s a versatile center who can be relied on in all situations, against top competition.
The one red flag is that his game has declined over the last two years since his peak in 2021-22, and his scoring is down this season. But Vancouver should feel pretty confident in a rebound; Lindholm won’t shoot below 7 percent forever and should start converting on his chances at a higher clip in the second half of the season. Plus, the Canucks aren’t expecting him to come in and perform like the high-end first-line center the Flames needed him to be — he’s comfortably going to move behind Elias Pettersson on the second line. Between that even-strength role, and likely some time on the top power play, he should have more support than he’s had in Calgary this year.
If that rebound doesn’t happen, Vancouver is not locked in past this season, anyway. Management did not sign him to an instant extension and overcommit off the bat, which is for the best considering Lindholm’s likely ask, long-term trajectory, and the Canucks’ cap situation.
From the Canucks’ perspective, the return is relatively steep for a player in a down year. But it’s not too far off from the Horvat and Ryan O’Reilly trades from last either. Vancouver added the best player on the market to fit its center needs, which is going to add value to this roster. And there’s still time (and assets) available for any other necessary tweaks. Plus, the return didn’t just bring in Lindholm, but cleared Kuzmenko’s $5.5 million cap hit. That was pivotal for Vancouver, especially with rising costs ahead next season.
The return for Calgary isn’t perfect or overwhelming, but it’s fine. Maybe the Flames could have waited for more, as teams felt the need to improve closer to the deadline. But their leverage may have dwindled by then too, since it’s getting pretty obvious what their direction has to be.
Sure, Calgary is taking a salary dump in Kuzmenko. But maybe he can rebound in a greater role with the Flames than he had this season in Vancouver. It’s unrealistic to think that he will shoot almost 27 percent again. But if he can end up somewhere in between last season’s heights and this year’s disappointment, it could add some much-needed scoring pop to the Flames’ middle-six.
The real highlight for Calgary is the 2024 first. Brzustewicz is a solid add, too. The Flames need young up-and-coming players to be a part of this next era. Adding a puck-moving defender like Brzustewicz is smart since pending UFA Noah Hanifin will likely be on the move pre-deadline — as long as he can develop into an NHL-caliber defenseman.
Canucks grade: B+
Flames grade: B-
Corey Pronman: Lindholm is a great all-around center. He skates well. He has a lot of individual skill. He can make plays, has a strong shot and he has a strong two-way game down the middle. While talented, he may not be the game-breaking type of skill player to be a true 1C on a contender, but he could be an excellent 2C on the Canucks. I’m a big believer in the Canucks. I like their goalie and skater group and think they have a real chance to win this season so I’m all in favor of pushing their chips in. They get the top rental on the market, which can help their top-ranked offense become even more distinguished from the pack. They get out from a bad contract in Kuzmenko as well, who was becoming quite replaceable in their lineup.
Kuzmenko is a forward with a ton of skill. He is a solid compete type as well who can create on the interior. Kuzmenko came flying out of the gates in his rookie season, but as a small average skating winger who I would not call an elite offensive type with the puck he’s come crashing down to earth this season. He’s not worth the big deal Vancouver gave him but Kuzmenko is a top nine NHL forward who can be on a power play.
Brzustewicz is a highly skilled puck-moving defenseman with high-end vision who has been a top defenseman in the OHL this season. He skates well, and can make plays with pace which gives some confidence that his offense will translate to the pros. The concerns on his game are the average-sized frame, so-so physicality and whether he’ll be able to make stops at higher levels given that his skating isn’t truly elite. Those issues are why he was cut from Team USA’s world juniors team. I like the player, and I think he can play in the NHL, but he’s no sure thing.
Jurmo is a fringe NHL prospect at this point, but he’s a strong athlete, which is why he was a third-round pick in 2020. He’s a big defenseman who skates very well for his size and has some skill. He doesn’t have great hockey sense though and isn’t that competitiv, which makes him a long shot.
I don’t love that Calgary didn’t get a true premium young asset back in this deal even if it was for a rental. If you really believe in Brzustewicz as a potential top-four defenseman, which a minority of NHL scouts do, maybe you think they did, but I don’t project him as that currently. The best asset Calgary gets is a late first-round pick, and a hope to turn around Kuzmenko with more opportunity. The return for a great rental is always underwhelming, but this one in particular doesn’t feel great for the Flames.
Canucks grade: B+
Flames grade: B-
(Photo of Elias Lindholm and J.T. Miller: Derek Cain / Getty Images)