The Calgary Flames should learn from the Canucks’ mistake and sell high on Andrei Kuzmenko

Photo credit:© Brett Holmes-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
14 days ago
The 2023/24 season has been one of few, if any, regrets for the Vancouver Canucks. But the past few weeks over in Calgary, Andrei Kuzmenko has been trying his darnedest to give them cause for at least one.
The Canucks will face off with Kuzmenko and the Flames on Tuesday in their second-last game of the regular season, the second time they’ve met since the January 31 trade that exchanged Kuzmenko for Elias Lindholm, among other pieces.
The first reunion came back on March 23. At that point in time, Kuzmenko had notched eight points in his first 15 games as a Flame. Not awful numbers, but nowhere near back to the scoring standards of his vaunted first year in the NHL.
A lot has changed in the three or so weeks since then.
Three games after his last match with the Canucks, Kuzmenko scored two goals against the St. Louis Blues. That kicked off a six-game point streak featuring five goals and 11 points. That streak was snapped on April 11 against Los Angeles, but then Kuzmenko responded the following game with a hattrick against Anaheim, to be followed up by a one goal, one assist performance against Arizona.
All told, since that last game against the Canucks, Kuzmenko has 16 points across 11 games. That’s good for the sixth-most in the NHL during that same stint, and his nine goals over that period trail just Auston Matthews and Steven Stamkos.
All of which, we’ll point out, is a lot more than Lindholm has contributed for the Canucks.
But we’re not here to talk about regrets today, despite our initial set-up. Or at least, not past regrets. Instead, we’re here to point out that the Flames have an opportunity to learn from a recent mistake on the Canucks’ part as it pertains to Kuzmenko, and a real chance to do what the Canucks should have done with Kuzmenko when they had the chance: sell high.
The Canucks, after all, have seen this movie before. Kuzmenko arrived in the NHL like a shot, notching 39 goals and 74 points in 81 games as a first-year NHLer (who was technically too old to be counted as a rookie.)
The Canucks rewarded Kuzmenko with a two-year, $5.5 million AAV contract extension midway through the season. But at the outset of the 2023/24 campaign, it became obvious that the magic was waning.
Kuzmenko put up just eight goals and 21 points in 43 games before being shipped out to Calgary.
The implosion may have caught some off-guard. Some, but not all. There were many loud calls from voices in the media and elsewhere to sell high on Kuzmenko in the midst of his first season, and even those who were willing to call his production what it was: a bit of a mirage.
Kuzmenko somewhat infamously scored on 27.3% of his shots that first season with Vancouver. That shooting percentage was impressive, but it was also quite obviously unsustainable. An out-of-whack shooting percentage is the classic indicator of a player in line for some regression, but as this was Kuzmenko’s first NHL season, there was nothing to compare it against.
Maybe, some reasoned, he was just the kind of player who would score on more than a quarter of his shots forever.
But that obviously didn’t prove to be the case.
Then, in any case, the Canucks chose not to sell high, despite upcoming cap constraints. They extended Kuzmenko, and before the contract was little more than a year old it had become a minor albatross, to be packaged up and shipped out of town.
With hindsight being what it is, most will now agree that selling high on Kuzmenko would have been the preferrable option. Even those who still like the Lindholm trade can likely admit that the trade would have been just as doable with whatever return Kuzmenko may have brought in this past summer in place of him.
It’s long past too late for that now, and with all the success the Canucks have had in 2023/24, it’s not even worth much regret.
But it is well worth learning from if you’re the Calgary Flames.
Through the first 43 games of the 2023/24 campaign, Kuzmenko dropped back down to a 12.7% shooting percentage, much more in line with something an NHLer could maintain. Since arriving in Calgary, however, Kuzmenko has been right back up to his old tricks, firing at a 26.4% rate – very nearly what he achieved that first year in Vancouver.
That wasn’t sustainable the first time, and it won’t be sustainable the second time, either.
Plus, it’s worth pointing out the context of all these points. Vancouver fans are all too familiar with the concept of players putting up goals and assists in garbage-time, the section of the season that occurs after a team has been eliminated from playoff contention and at which point all stakes are removed.
Note some of the teams that Kuzmenko’s big games have come against. A hattrick against Anaheim. Two points against Arizona. He’s not exactly beating worldbeaters here.
This isn’t meant as a diss on Kuzmenko. He is what he is, and that still appears to be a useful NHL player. But what he is not is a player who will consistently score anywhere near as often as Auston Matthews.
And what he really is is a player that the Flames should be very interested in selling high on as soon as they can this offseason.
If they don’t, they’ll almost certainly be left with a much less productive Kuzmenko next season, just as the Canucks were, and find it much more difficult to move him all of a sudden, just as the Canucks did.
Which, if we’re being perfectly honest, would be fine! We’re not really in the business of handing out advice or well-wishes to the Calgary Flames.
This is really just food for thought, and another storyline to think about as the Canucks and Flames head into their final matchup on the year.
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