The Calgary Flames are the team to watch ahead of the 2024 NHL trade deadline in March. They have several good players on expiring contracts who have yet to sign an extension, and one of those players -- Nikita Zadorov -- was traded to the Vancouver Canucks last week.
TSN released its first Trade Bait list of the 2023-24 season this week, and three Flames players are at the top. Top-six center Elias Lindholm is No. 1, followed by defensemen Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin.
The most interesting player in that group might be Lindholm. He's a very good two-way forward with a manageable $4.875 million salary cap hit for this season. If the Flames are unable to work out an extension with Lindholm, then they absolutely should trade him and get some kind of value in return before he can leave in free agency next summer.
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The Boston Bruins were linked to Lindholm in trade rumors over the summer. It made sense, given the Bruins' lack of depth at center at that time. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired in August, and Lindholm was a logical trade target to help fill those spots.
But after watching Pavel Zacha, Charlie Coyle, rookie Matthew Poitras and rookie Johnny Beecher excel in their roles at center this season, does it still make sense for the Bruins to pursue Lindholm and give up significant assets to acquire him?
Right now, the answer is probably no.
Both Coyle (20 points in 25 games) and Zacha (19 points in 25 games) have exceeded expectations and are on pace to set career highs in scoring. Poitras has 11 points in 25 games as a rookie, and he should get better with more experience. Beecher has been a strong two-way presence in the fourth-line center spot and leads the team in faceoff percentage. Could the Bruins use an upgrade at center? Sure, you can't have too many good centers, and Zacha is capable of being productive at left wing. But based on the performances of these four players, center is not a massive weakness right now.
Lindholm would be a fit in Boston with his two-way skill set. He finished second to Bergeron in Selke Trophy voting in 2021-22. But he doesn't exactly tally eye-popping scoring stats. He has posted more than 65 points just twice. He's eclipsed the 30-goal mark only once. He has tallied 50-plus assists once, too. That's not the kind of production that warrants a new contract worth around $8-9.5 million per season.
If the Bruins are willing to give up valuable assets (and they don't have many left after last season) for a blockbuster deal, it makes more sense to look at Lindholm's teammate Hanifin. The Massachusetts native was the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and he's enjoyed a very good career as a reliable top-four defenseman.
The Bruins have been an average defensive team this season, ranking in the middle third of teams in shots allowed and scoring chances allowed. A lot of their defensive issues have been covered up by stellar goaltending, but that's not a winning strategy long term. With Matt Grzelcyk and Derek Forbort both on expiring contracts, the Bruins could have an opening or two on the left side of their blue line next season.
From a salary cap perspective, the Bruins could have around $27 million to spend. It's important to remember that they'll need to re-sign some of their own free agents, most notably Jeremy Swayman, but they will have a lot more roster flexibility next summer than they did last offseason.
It'll be fascinating to see how the situation plays out in Calgary over the next few months. The Flames are just three points out of a wild card spot, but at the same time, if these guys aren't willing to re-sign, it would be irresponsible not to trade them.
Keep an eye on the Flames. They are the team to watch in the trade market going forward.