Sports Biz: 3 reasons why the Vancouver Canucks’ trade for Elias Lindholm makes sense, from a business perspective

The team sent prospects, draft picks and a player to the Calgary Flames for Lindholm

A year ago, the Vancouver Canucks were in a very different spot. Once again near the bottom of the league’s basement and sellers at the midway point of the season, the team decided to ship out captain Bo Horvat.

The return was nothing to sneeze at. From the New York Islanders, the Canucks received a first-round pick, a somewhat promising prospect (Aatu Raty) and a roster player who had fallen out of favour with his organization (Anthony Beauvillier).

How things can change in a year. These days, the Canucks are at the top of the league, spurred by huge seasons from star players Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser and Thatcher Demko, all of whom are representing the team this weekend at the All-Star Game in Toronto. Coach Rick Tocchet is also there. And now, they’ll have a new team member join the fun.

Elias Lindholm (who, granted, was a bit of a surprise selection from the middling Calgary Flames—every team has to send at least one player to the game) was traded to the Canucks earlier this week.

Lindholm comes over in exchange for Andrei Kuzmenko, who had fallen out of favour in Vancouver, prospects Joni Jurmo and Hunter Brzustewicz, a 2024 first-round draft pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round draft pick.

In the last several years, win-now types of trades have hurt the Canucks as the team wasn’t ready to compete but management—previously led by ex-GM Jim Benning—kept giving up draft picks and prospects for (mostly bad) veterans.

And while Canucks president Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin are also seemingly bent on going all-in during their tenures here, they’ve done what Benning struggled tremendously to do: bring in key pieces that can support the talented young core.

That’s Lindholm, who could be a piece going forward (though he’s an unrestricted free agent and will likely cost a good amount on the market).

On the hockey front, the trade can certainly be debated. The Canucks gave up a decent amount. First-round picks are coveted assets (though it must be said that a late first, as this one is likely to be, is a lot less appetizing than the mid-first the Canucks got from the Islanders for Horvat) and Brzustewicz was a third-round pick in 2023 who has seen a huge boost to his stock thanks to 69 points in 47 games with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.

But realistically, the Canucks were going to trade that first-rounder this year with the way the season has gone. According to expert, this year’s draft project to be not very deep. And Brzustewicz optimistically projects as a not-as-good Quinn Hughes, who can theoretically run a power play and put up some points. But the Canucks have the real Quinn Hughes. Turning a third-round pick into one of this trade’s biggest assets is a savvy move.

As for Lindholm, he should slot into the top-six as a dependable player on both ends of the rink. He’s not having a great year on a mediocre Flames team. But he still has 32 points in 49 games. Can he get close to the 64 points in 80 games he registered last year? We think it’s possible.

But since this is a business publication, we’ve also got some business-related reasons as to why this move makes sense for the Canucks right now.

Andrei Kuzmenko was something of a toxic asset. He had to go.

Just as businesses try to rid themselves of assets that aren’t making money or no longer have value, Andrei Kuzmenko had to go. There were warning signs of this last year, as Kuzmenko’s stunner of a rookie season was built on an unsustainably high shooting percentage. Many didn’t expect him to be as poor a fit in Rick Tocchet’s system as he has proven to be, though. It just didn’t work, with Kuzmenko’s frequent turnovers cause him to be stapled to the bench and press box at times.

One also gets the feeling that the Cancuks’ marketing department is a little relieved. At the beginning of his first season in Vancouver, Kuzmenko was loved. That smile, that quirkiness, those 39 goals. Sure. But at the end of last season, many fans turned against Kuzmenko when he decided against warming up in a Pride jersey. It just wasn’t the same after that—his antics less funny, his personality decidedly less cute. Of course, that might not have mattered if the goals kept coming (this is, after all, a business). When they didn’t—he had eight in 43 games this year—it was time to go.

When times are good, you have to reward the employees and the customers.

A downside of the Canucks being good this year is that ticket prices are way up. An upside, if you’re a fan? The games (well, most of them) are worth it now. And the city’s bars are full on Canucks’ game days with actual excitement.

We’re almost never an advocate for short-term gains over sustainable building, when it comes to both hockey and business. But the Canucks, in some ways, owed some sort of move to the fans, who never got to fully enjoy the team’s out-of-nowhere 2020 playoff run during the (relatively) early days of COVID.

And then there are the players, who enter the All-Star break first in the entire league. They deserve this shot by management. They’ve proved they can play with any other team in the NHL.

Don’t regret not going all-in on an opportunity.

Rutherford and Allvin don’t have to worry about this one, because they’re natural gamblers who aren’t at all afraid to shake things up. But it’s important to remember how very rarely times like these come along where a team has an actual shot to make a serious Stanley Cup run. Whether you think they can do it or not (and certainly, opinions on that differ across the city), they’re in position to take a crack. With this braintrust and this core, there’s no reason they can’t continue to compete either.

Now, if they sign Lindholm to a big, long-term deal, that will be a bit harder to reckon with as he’s already shown signs of decline at 29 years old. But right now? It’s a risk they almost had to take.