It was revealed Thursday four key Calgary Flames players do not intend to re-sign with the team by next offseason. The players are center Elias Lindholm, defenseman Noah Hanifin, center Mikael Backlund, and winger Tyler Toffoli. All four of them declared various levels of uncertainty about re-signing with the organization, with National Hockey League (NHL) insider Frank Seravalli revealing their standings with the organization.
These four players, one way or another, are significant to the Calgary Flames. With their decisions all having seemingly been made, here is what Calgary will be missing out on by trading them, but what they could get in return for them.
Originally drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes, Lindholm was traded to the Flames along with Noah Hanifin in exchange for Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland, and the signing rights to Adam Fox, who openly did not want to play anywhere not called New York. Lindholm has since blossomed into a high-quality offense-first first-line center.
Lindholm was the center for Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, or sometimes both, which would naturally increase one’s base statistics, but he has still had strong offensive seasons regardless of who he has been on a line with.
A first-line right-handed center will get next-level attention on the trade market, particularly if Lindholm promises to immediately sign an extension with them. Lindholm is perhaps the best Calgary Flames player and with all signs pointing to him leaving, Calgary will be able to get a first and some high-quality prospects. If Lindholm leaves, that will be the first domino to fall and the official sign the rebuild is underway.
Hanifin was another former top draft pick by Carolina who was sent to Calgary via trade (see above). He quickly became the two-way successor to Mark Giordano on the left side of the blue line. He is also only 26, he still has the second half of his career left to go.
Hanifin often got paired with Rasmus Andersson, another Calgary Flames player with an excellent two-way game. Hanifin has played first-pair minutes for years now and though not the savviest defensively, Lindholm gets the job done. Lindholm’s current contract is also team-friendly, so it would be easier to trade and retain salary if need be.
A player of Hanifin’s caliber likely constitutes a first-round pick and an alright prospect or a second-round pick and a great prospect. A first-pair left-handed defenseman hitting his prime comes at a cost, particularly for playoff contenders in need.
This is the most surprising of the four impending departures. Backlund is not only the longest-tenured Calgary Flames player currently on the team, he had a career renaissance last season. Backlund posted career highs in points (56) and assists (37) in a 2022-23 campaign that could only be described as a series of unfortunate events.
Backlund’s reputation has been “good two-way forward” for his whole career and he has been a solid presence overall. With his career rolling on, the mileage on Backlund has slowed him down. Backlund’s contract will be the toughest to trade, despite the career year offensively. Who wants to take that chance on Backlund, even as a rental? Calgary likely needs to retain 50% of his salary, particularly if they cannot trade him before the season starts.
Backlund at 50% retention (and perhaps 25% retention from a third part) would run a team a second-rounder or a third-rounder and a prospect. A team going all-in may trade a first-rounder for Backlund, but that’s stretching it. Backlund’s goodbye is less about his on-ice performance and more of a sentimental goodbye.
The former two-time Cup champion is on his fourth team in the last four seasons. It is highly possible he lands on his fifth team in five seasons. This constant change of scenery is not due to poor performance, though. Toffoli has been traded from a bad team to a good team over and over again. Like Backlund, Toffoli produced career-highs offensively last season. Unlike Backlund, Toffoli saw an increased role in the offense with the departures of Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. This does not discount Toffoli’s efforts, though. He was one of the few Calgary Flames players to show up in the clutch in a season defined by overtime losses.
Toffoli is going on his twelfth season in the NHL, but that has in no way slowed him down. He has proven his worth as a first-liner, though that may change if trade into a new system. Teams may be hesitant on trading for Toffoli, but with a cap hit such as his, it will be very easy to swallow for just a year. If he does not pan out, he can walk to free agency. If he does, playoff contenders will be bidding for his talents with first-round picks and prospects.
Will more Calgary Flames players follow suit?
The short answer is yes, but who exactly does follow suit will be the point of interest. Chris Tanev, Dillon Dube, and Nikita Zadorov are all pending free agents with varying degrees of skill. One way or another, it’s likely two of those three are not long for the Flames. Once one domino falls, the rebuild is in full effect. Everyone will be available for trade. The Flames will be looking to the 2024 NHL Draft and beyond, but one problem remains: Montreal has their first-round pick in 2025.
Not a soul in the NHL envies being Flames general manager Craig Conroy. He is tasked with not only beginning a rebuild but getting Calgary back to at least middle-of-the-pack status within two seasons. Maloney has the honor of starting a total rebuild right in the face and will potentially begin by mass-trading Calgary’s best players.
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