The Bruins’ Hampus Lindholm returns to Anaheim under the bigger spotlight he deserves

EL SEGUNDO, CALIFORNIA – In Boston, Hampus Lindholm has planted himself in his new home in the NHL and is enjoying the spoils of playing for the Original Six in a city full of sports. It didn’t take long for him to find a third-floor condominium in the North End. He’s out to dig further into the Hanover Street restaurant scene with Bricco and Strega being two of his early favourites.

“It’s hard to pick one,” Lindholm said. “There are so many good places. I still have more to try.”

Upon his return to Southern California, Lindholm arrived in much drier weather than the surprisingly mild Fenway Park where he played in the Winter Classic. He’s used to Boston being like his native Sweden in the winter. The rainstorms across the greater Los Angeles area were a change from what they used to be, even in January.

“I don’t think I like it very much here,” he said with a smile. “The sun is supposed to be shining.”

But as he returns to Anaheim on Sunday and plays at the old home that used to be the Honda Center, Lindholm couldn’t be happier these days. The Bruins, the team he joined in a trade last March, have the best record in the NHL at 31-4-4. The Ducks, whose defense has become a vital part of it over the course of nine seasons, posted the third-worst mark in the league at 12-24-4.

If it sounds like Lindholm got a lottery ticket when Ducks first-year general manager Pat Verbeek ripped him off for a comeback that might take a while to start balancing out, well, he wouldn’t say so.

Hampus Lindholm walks to the ice during a training day ahead of the 2023 Winter Classic. (Bob DiChiara / USA Today)

“I don’t look at it that way,” Lindholm said. the athlete. “Of course, it’s normal to have ideas when you look at the standings and all that. At least in my mind, I’m thinking if I had stayed in Anaheim, it would have been different. Depending on which path you’re on, that’s what you make of it. Right now, I’m just trying to be present.” Where I am and what I’m doing. I’m so happy in Boston and everything that comes with it. I don’t really try to think and look at it that way.

“I’ve moved on. I’m doing my business and they’re doing theirs. This is kind of like where my head is.”

Charlie McAvoy shakes his head. He had an idea of ​​how good a player Lindholm was. But not really.

“Since I got into (the NHL), I honestly don’t care much about being out here,” McAvoy said after a recent Bruins practice. “He’s harder. Time has changed. It’s everything. He’s out west. I remember last year we played against them in Anaheim. He was the best player on the ice. I was like, ‘This Lindholm is really good.’ And that was the first time I really noticed him.” … Later in the year, deadline came and we got “Lindy.”

“Now I can see every day what he does and what he brings in. As for him, he’s been in a lot of games – he’s been in the league since he was 19 – he has a lot of experience. An amazing guy and an incredible player. With skill, he’s very good at it.” Everything. There isn’t a single thing he’s not good at. He’s a complete, well-rounded, all-around defenceman. Just really special.”

After being acquired by Boston before the 2022 deadline, Lindholm is beginning to make his mark. He had a 10-plus rating to go with five assists in 10 contests as Boston prepared for the playoffs – which is where the defender has been in his first five seasons with Anaheim. He was also hit hard, missing another 10 games to deal with injuries. And in the seven-game series against Carolina, Lindholm was unavailable for Games 3-5 after suffering an upper body ailment in the Game 2 defeat.

Up until this point in 2022-23, Boston is getting the fully healthy version. Lindholm is having the best start to his career. The plus-minus sign is no longer a comprehensive and definitive statistic, but defensemen still care a lot about it and his plus-27 in strength currently leads the NHL. He directed an offense from the blue B line and is going at a 57-point pace that would shatter his previous best. His advanced defensive metrics and possession numbers returned to the high levels that characterized his early years with the Ducks.

They’re not always a duo, but the Bruins have two horses in all positions in Lindholm and McAvoy as they’re set on the eventual goal of what will be their seventh Stanley Cup. Including Saturday’s 4-2 win over San Jose, Boston have allowed a league-low 87 goals and own a 62-plus-goal lead. Lindholm’s average ice time of 23 minutes 48 seconds leads the team.

“I always thought Hampus Lindholm was a really good hockey player,” said Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, who replaced current Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy last summer. “I didn’t know he was such an outstanding player in this league. He took his game to another level, there’s no doubt about that. I think he’s a dynamite person to help out on your offense and he’s still the outstanding defender that’s been in Anaheim and kills a lot of plays. We’re very lucky to have him.” .

Lindholm’s value has never been more evident than in the 2022-23 season opener. The Bruins didn’t have McAvoy on the blue line until November 10, a period of their first 13 games. Additionally, Brad Marchand knocked out the first seven contests. Boston started out with a 10-win streak in 11 games, pushed it 17-of-19, and has been on a rampage ever since. Lindholm was in the middle of it all, putting up 13 points in his first 11 games. The offense has slowed some now that McAvoy is back, but the impact is still being felt.

“I don’t think we got off to the start with Charlie out without playing the minutes he did,” Montgomery said. “I think he was in the top 10 in the minutes before Charlie came back and he was third or fourth in scoring defensemen with 20-plus on the ice. It’s unbelievable. It was just amazing for us.”

Lindholm is being noticed more than ever. Die-hard hockey fans knew him. The Ducks fans who loved him to the point of wearing his No. 47 jersey knew what a franchise was. But being on the East Coast in a hockey-loving market is giving the Swede the wide attention he has long deserved.

“You obviously have more of the spotlight on you,” said Lindholm, who promptly signed an eight-year, $52 million contract extension following the deal. Also now, I’m probably more ready to get into it. Playing in Anaheim for so many years and getting into Boston, there’s obviously more pressure to play for the Original Six. I love it. It’s so much fun that people care about what you do there. Obviously, I have my contract. .

“I’m just out there having fun. You want to win hockey games and you want to win something for the fans and the team. I’m just enjoying hockey now. I’ve been trying to have the same mentality throughout my career and I think now I’m more in a position to show it a little bit more.”

Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm. (Winslow Townson/USA Today)

It’s not as if his talents were ignored or left unappreciated on the West Coast, but those who could not stay up late to watch duck games or simply had no interest in them now get a full view of what Lindholm has always been.

“It’s a different market,” McAvoy said. “Obviously, the Original Six are in Boston. But (the fans) had no idea. And that’s me, because I think it’s hard to follow in the East here. It’s just that. They’re smart fans. They understand the game. They know the game. So “Boston fans know what we’ve got. We’ve got a really special defenseman.”

“It’s crazy how it all worked out. We get him on deadline and then we sign him right away. We’re both in the first year of our eight-year deals. We’re in it for the long haul. I’ll tell you, there’s no one I’d rather be with. Amazing.”

The situations between the Bruins and Ducks couldn’t be more different.

Boston is in every way trying to get Patrice Bergeron and other veterans like Marchand and David Krejci another trophy before it’s too late. Anaheim is in the midst of a painful rebuilding process as it moves into a smaller core in the face of Trevor Zygras, Troy Terry, Mason McTavish, and Jimmy Drysdale. The remaining links to the Ducks’ final team in 2018-2019 are John Gibson, Cam Fowler, Adam Henrique, Derek Grant, and Jacob Silverberg.

Now they are the last place team, the worst defensive team in the NHL. Perhaps the focus is on the future by design with the chance to add another of the top five talents in this year’s draft, one that might include phenom Conor Bedard with some luck in the lottery. It’s not like the Ducks were winning at the end of Lindholm’s run with them. But it would obviously be an improvement on their substandard Defense Corps.

The Bruins simply made the kind of commitment Verbeek wasn’t willing to make. There were offers—the Ducks were willing to shell out more than $6.5 million in their current deal—but they didn’t last more than five years. And the 28-year-old Lindholm, who often lives by the credo of controlling the things he can control, began preparing his mind last spring when it was clear the difference between five and eight years would not be bridged.

“I would say it wasn’t easy because I knew if I was traded the team probably wouldn’t sign me,” Lindholm said. the athlete. “And it’s not always an easy situation because I haven’t been anywhere else. So that was difficult for me. And I think that’s why there was a big opportunity maybe to think about the possibility of staying. But they made it so clear and fast that I don’t think they wanted to commit me to that.” years that other teams have been doing.

“That made it easy for me to move forward because obviously we all knew the situation until last year. They made it very clear. But they still made some kind of effort.”

Whether it was as part of a rebuilding effort at Anaheim or trying to preserve his years of competitive play in Boston, Lindholm felt like he was going to come up with a positive net. But now that he’s wearing the No. 27 at a title-hunting club he was interested in long before the trade, he says: “If I had known all this I know now, it would have been a no-brainer. But you don’t know that then. It’s kind of scary.” The thing is, you try to jump like you’re blindfolded. It’s not always that easy.”

Lindholm arrived in Anaheim as the franchise went on a streak of five straight titles. He’s become a closing staple on defense and was a center forward in the Western Conference Finals in 2015 and 2017. He clearly understands the Ducks’ current struggles and how it marks a change of direction under Verbeek. He can feel bad about what they aren’t but he also doesn’t feel sorry for them.

“We’ve had some really good teams,” he said. “Obviously to be young and to be in Anaheim, a market in which maybe not as obsessed as the hockey environment is, you don’t feel like the fans or the city maybe behind you as much as you do in Boston. I just think I may not have realized how lucky I was to be in.” “The league with such a good team the first two years. That was the only thing looking back. But at the same time, I learned a lot from it. Being around those guys and this team. All the guys we have in that locker room.”

“I cherish it all. It’s been an amazing trip. I met some good family and friends around this area. It was such a fun time. And that got me ready for this great silver lining and got me ready for Boston.”

(Top photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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