CALGARY – As a player or coach, few in the NHL are as honest as Rod Brind’Amour.
“Looking back you say, ‘why’d you do that?’” he said on the eve of his team’s first visit to Cowtown since the swap.
“We knew we were giving up a great player. Trust me, we knew how talented he was. But we needed that toughness element and I love what Ferls brings to our group.”
Indeed, Micheal Ferland has injected much-needed moxie to the Carolina lineup.
However, what Lindholm brought to Calgary was a package every team in the league craves: a complete one.
A versatile forward who can play right wing or centre, the 24-year-old can act as playmaker, finisher, faceoff specialist, penalty killer, power play threat and Selke Trophy candidate.
His addition to the Flames’ top line has helped elevate Johnny Gaudreau from star to Art Ross and Hart Trophy threat, while also turning Calgary’s pop-gun power play into one of the league’s most dangerous.
Shattering his career highs in every offensive category with 21 goals, 36 helpers and a plus-27 mark just 50 games in, it begs the obvious question – why couldn’t he do this in Carolina?
“We used to wonder the same thing – ‘how’d he not get two or three goals tonight?’” said Brind’Amour.
“We play down there and no one really watches us – they just look at the numbers. For whatever reason he was just snake bit.
“It helps when you throw him on a line with a guy who is arguably one of the best players in the game here, (Johnny) Gaudreau. We didn’t have that here, so he was shouldering the brunt of trying to make other players better. He’s better in a sense he’s just more confident.
“He carries his own and he helps those guys too.”
Perhaps now would be a good time to remind people the Hurricanes didn’t simply give up on Lindholm. They included him in the five-player trade on draft day because they had reached a stalemate in negotiations and weren’t willing to budge on his demands.
He knew he’d be moved.
So off he was packaged with Noah Hanifin for Dougie Hamilton, Ferland and Harvard hotshot Adam Fox.
It has worked out brilliantly for Calgary, as Lindholm is one of a handful of major reasons the team continues to shock the NHL as the best team in the west.
“As soon as I signed you always want to kind of prove they did the wrong thing and I’ve done a pretty good job of that,” said Lindholm with the understatement of the year.
“It’s hard to tell what kind of numbers you can put up, but obviously I didn’t expect to have 57 points right now. I always knew I could produce. Obviously a couple years in Carolina I didn’t get to produce as much as I wanted to.”
“I hit the post a lot,” he said, without breaking into a grin.
“In Carolina I had a lot of chances, but not as good as here. Here they’ve been going in. It helps when you are playing with good players like these.”
But it’s not like he was playing with a slouch in Sebastian Aho, who coach Bill Peters insists is a superstar.
“He found a way to finish here,” said Peters, who coached Lindholm in Raleigh for four years before moving north and urging GM Brad Treliving to pursue the young Swede.
“Honestly, he’s not playing much differently (than in Carolina). It’s just going in for him. He’s probably shooting better, he’s got a lot of confidence and obviously that power play unit has been good from Day 1.
“He moved around a lot and we probably used him to check a little more at times with Jordan Staal, but his ice time probably isn’t that much different.”
One third of his 21 goals have come with the man advantage, which surprises none of his former teammates even though they never saw him score more than 17 goals or 45 points.
“We all knew he was a great player – he’s a top five pick and great talent,” said Justin Williams.
“But he had never scored 20 goals before. Did I think he’d score 20 before the break and be a top-15 scorer. I’d be lying if I said that.
“Being a great player a lot of time you’ve got to find the right fit on the team, and clearly he’s fit in like a perfect puzzle piece here.”
Part of that puzzle included sliding into the top trio Day 1 so the right-hander could take pressure off left-handed centre Sean Monahan by allowing both to take draws on their strong side.
“I just talked to Bill Peters and we agreed that Lindy had all those chances last year too and he could have put them in,” said Aho.
“Obviously you need good linemates and need confidence and when you score early in a season you can do that.”
Lindholm wasted little time exhibiting chemistry with Calgary’s top guns, making him a relative steal at $4.85 million over the next six years. A savvy signing by Treliving.
Hanifin has watched the coming of age up close and insists he knew the breakout was coming.
“I did – I really did,” he smiled.
“He’s one of those players who was so under the radar in Carolina. I saw him every day and saw what he was capable of doing in the right situation. It’s insane – he’s kind of blown all his numbers away from past years.”
Peters is so impressed with Lindholm he said Monday he’s contemplating reducing his ice time as one of the team’s most reliable penalty killers.
“I’d like to maybe take him off the PK as much as we use him and save him for other stuff,” he said of his jack of all trades.
“He’s only 24 and he came into the league at a young age with high expectations and sometimes with those guys you have to be patient.
“He wants to be elite, he works hard and has great hockey sense and it’s all coming together for him.”