Calgary Flames general manager Craig Conroy knows the importance of fresh starts.
Conroy had a slump when the Kings changed coaches during his two seasons in Los Angeles, dropping from 66 points to 16, leading to a return to Alberta and his top playing form. Conroy believes that’s what newly acquired forward Andrei Kuzmenko needs as well.
“It’s always a spark to come somewhere new and hopefully, it might take a little time, but we’d love to see him get his touch back, scoring wise,” said Conroy.
The Flames dealt forward Elias Lindholm to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Kuzmenko, defencemen Hunter Brzustewicz and Joni Jurmo, a 2024 first-round draft pick and a 2024 conditional fourth-round pick on Wednesday.
Kuzmenko, 27, has struggled this season, with only eight goals and 21 assists in 43 games and has been a healthy scratch multiple times. Kuzmenko signed a two-year, US$11 million contract extension in January 2023.
“The one thing I think he likes is positive reinforcement,” said Conroy. “He wants a guy to communicate with him and explain what he wants him to do and just put him in situations that he can succeed.”
Kuzmenko found himself bounced around forward lines this year, starting the season on the first line alongside Elias Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev, before dropping down to the fourth line.
Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet was blunt in his assessment of the forward’s play, making him a healthy scratch several times.
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He added that he sees the Russian forward slotting in to the team’s top six forwards and on the top power-play unit.
For the Canucks and general manager Patrik Allvin, trading for Lindholm was the end of a long pursuit.
“I’ve watched him since coming up in Sweden. I felt getting us a right-shot centre, a player who has competed at the highest level for years and being a really solid 200 foot player makes us harder to play against and gives our coaching staff more options in the top six,” said Allvin.
Lindholm paid tribute to the Flames in an Instagram post, thanking the fans for their support during his six years in Calgary.
The Swedish centre has nine goals and 23 assists this season.
Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford was the general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes when they drafted Lindholm fifth overall in 2013.
Lindholm said he found out about the trade while returning from a vacation.
“I was on my way right from Mexico,” said Lindholm. “Mid-flight I somehow got some service, and I was peppered by some text messages and phone calls. I was traded halfway back to Calgary.”
He expected a trade was in his future, Lindholm added.
“I loved my time there, tried to work it out but this is just the business side of it,” said Lindholm. “Calgary wanted to obviously do something.”
Vancouver’s top six forwards have been rotated in recent weeks, with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser paired with Pettersson in an effort to boost scoring, before the two Americans were moved back to the second line.
“I felt that our top six needed to improve a little bit with a calibre of player like Elias to find more consistency going down the stretch,” said Allvin. “We know the matchups over the next 33 games is coming down to tough matchups and that’s where you need your four lines to be strong in a two-way game.
“That’s why we felt like adding a piece like Elias here for the cost, would be repaid now and potentially for the future.”
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Lindholm is in the final year of a six-year, $29.1 million contract signed after he was traded to the Flames in 2018. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Allvin said he’s confident that the Canucks could re-sign both Lindholm and Pettersson to deals, despite the potential combined cap hit.
“I think there’s a realistic way, and those are the things we’re always projecting in the way we do business here,” he said. “Every day you have a projection on the future of your lineup and roster.”
— with files from The Canadian Press’ Josh Clipperton
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