At the beginning of the 2023/24 season, no one in Las Vegas was picking the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup, with Sin City’s bookies putting the team’s chance at 50 to one.
How things can change in four months.
Based on Vancouver’s trade last night with the Calgary Flames, one of the NHL’s most historically cursed franchises has now decided to go all in on this most magical, and unexpected, of seasons.
Caucks president Jim Rutherford is famous for making trades well ahead of the March deadline. Along with general manager Patrik Allvin, Rutherford shipped out a potential elite scorer, along with draft picks and two defence prospects, to Calgary in exchange for a two-way all-star centre.
Headed to Vancouver is Selke-nominated Swede Elias Lindholm, giving the Canucks an all-important defensive centre, seen as crucial for a Stanley Cup run. Lindholm was seen as one of the most valuable players on the trade market as this year’s March 8 NHL trade deadline approaches. He was drafted by Rutherford back when the future Canucks president was with the Carolina Hurricanes.
The big piece going to Calgary is Andrei Kuzmenko, whose 2022/23 debut NHL season as a Canuck saw him score 39 goals, only to be stapled to the bench by head coach Rick Tocchet as he chased number 40 in the team’s final games. A fan favourite despite often being in Tocchet’s doghouse, Kuzmenko has struggled this year, notching only eight goals and spending time in the press box as a healthy scratch. The Flames also receive defence prospects Hunter Brzustewicz and Joni Jurmo, the Canucks’ first-round pick in the 2024 draft, and a fourth rounder.
Given Vancouver is the top team in the league at the all-star break, the first-round pick might as well be a second rounder, with Calgary potentially picking in the 32nd spot. And fourth-round picks almost never make the NHL unless their names are Johnny Gaudreau, T.J. Brodie, or Mattias Ekholm.
Optically, given the Canucks traded three players—including a potential sniper—and two picks for a single player, Flames GM Craig Conroy is being credited for getting a major haul for Lindholm, who’s a free agent at the end of the season. (Kuzmenko has another year left on his contract.)
In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Conroy said, “We thought it was a really good deal for us. We get a good player in Kuzmenko. He can help our power-play. A right shot. Has proven he can score in the league. We get two draft picks, and then we get two younger players. And they’re getting a great player in Lindholm. I think it was a good deal for both sides.”
While that’s exactly the kind of thing one might have expected Conroy to say, in this case it’s true.
The Canucks have indeed given up a lot, with Kuzmenko the potentially scariest part of the deal if he’s able to regain the scoring touch he demonstrated in his first NHL season.
But with Lindholm, the Canucks get the most defensively responsible centre the team has seen since Ryan Kesler during the cup-contending years just over a decade ago.
The messaging is clear: with the team in first place, it’s time to sacrifice the future for the present as the window for another Stanley Cup run is now officially open.
The best part being that no one—with the possible exception of Jim Benning—saw this coming.
At the beginning of the year, most hockey panel experts had the Canucks missing the playoffs entirely—something they’ve done seven times in the last eight years.
In Las Vegas, the Colorado Avalanche was picked as the odds-on favourite to win the Stanley Cup, followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, and Boston Bruins. (That’s right: the Toronto Fucking Maple Laffs—if that happens, the entire fucking country with the exception of Ontario is going to need serious trauma counselling).
Teams picked to win the Stanley Cup before Vancouver included the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, New York Islanders, Nashville Predators, and Calgary Flames—who are now clearly in rebuild mode.
As for the Canucks, with the addition of Lindholm, the team now has six players headed to this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game. (Lindholm was Calgary’s representative, with Vancouver sending Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, and Thatcher Demko).
The time is now. Which is another way of saying that you might truly be laughing this June if, at the beginning of the season, you slapped down a hundred bucks in Vegas with a crazily far-fetched dream.