YAY OPTIMISM - Mikael Backlund as MR. BRIGHTSIDE

Vintage Flame
August 24 2011 04:30PM

 

 

One player that the Flames management and fans will want to keep a close eye on in this upcoming season is defiitely Mikael Backlund. Being touted as Calgary's best prospect, it's time for Mikael to make the jump from a prospect to a fully fledged role player. Entering his third year with Calgary, this season just may provide the opportunity for the young Swede to show just what he can do, with a little ambition and a lot of hard work.

Last season Backlund started on the fourth line, centering for a carousel of wingers, while the Flames tinkered with a carousel of centres for the top line. One by one, the rotation of Jokinen, Stajan and Morrison were cycled through playing with Iginla and Tanguay. With Backlund lacking the experience and the Flames needing instant chemistry, it seemed like Mikael was going to be in tough to get the chance to earn his stripes.

Centre Games Played TOI/60 Corsi/60 Zone Start Shoot %
M. Backlund 73 10.43 14.89 54.3 7.49
M. Stajan 76 12.31 5.84 53 8.88
O. Jokinen 79 13.90 -0.82 52.9 7.81
B. Morrison 66 12.01 -2.95 50.7 10.16

Backlund's season totals are absolutely something for the Flames and their fans to be encouraged about. Given that he played two to three minutes less than any other centre, his corsi number blows away the rest of his peers. In fact, his 14.89 was second only to Tim Jackman at 16.31 for the entire team. The next closest skater was David Moss at 8.26.

So where do the Flames go from here?

One of the most talked about subject here in Flames Nation has been the possible line combinations for 2011-12. There are many that believe there are certain lines that are evident from the second half of last season that just worked; and should be left alone. Perhaps the most commonly approved of line is that of Glencross - Jokinen - Moss. One of the most effective combinations for the Flames and was often credited for destroying other team third lines. The other favourable combination seemed to lean towards Bourque and Langkow, reunited with the belief that the elder centre makes Rene a better player and his return to the lineup full time, might also prompt the return of Bourque's play as an offensive threat.

That leaves two lines without a centreman and three centres without lines? In Kent's article about Brent Sutter, he talks about the more hands on control the coach will have on how he deploys his lines. He also discusses the Flames' task of finding a suitable fit at centre for Iginla and Tanguay, and who, with an abundance of options might be the right candidate. Looking at Backlund's underlying possession numbers, he seems to be the right 'kid' for the job. Consider this...

Games Shooting %
First 27 Games 6.6
Middle 27 Games 8.6
Last 28 Games 8.5

You can see that even with the slow start and a fourth line placement, Backlund found his bearings, resulting in an increase in his shooting percentage in the middle and last thirds of the season. The 2% jump from the first to the second third of the season could be viewed as him settling in as a permanent roster player. At times he has been able to show flashes of skill. As his confidence in that role grows, so too should his shot totals.

So where does Mike go from here?

Honestly, the kid deserves a shot to centre the top line with Iginla and Tanguay. It would be a complete waste of time and development to continue to bury Backlund on the fourth line. He is a rising talent in an aging population. This year can be an incredible step for him developmentally. It's no secret that the Flames have not generated many positive results when deploying Iginla's line in a PvP situation. The fact that the Flames have found positive results when choosing to shelter the Iginla line, represents an opportunity to further Backlund's development without throwing him to the wolves. After all, it's not as if Mikael is holding back the two big wingers, as we can see from here.

 

Player

Total Chances

With Backlund

Without Backlund

 

CF

CA

%CF

CF

CA

CF%

CF

CA

CF%

Jarome Iginla

430

371

53.7%

72

53

57.6%

358

318

53.0%

Alex Tanguay

354

301

54.0%

53

33

61.6%

301

268

52.9%


Both Iginla and Tanguay played better with Backlund than they did with any other centre on the line. What made even a better case for the kid to stay on this line is that he was able to maintain his elevated shooting percentage. Backlund hasn't hit lofty percentages yet in his young career, but he has shown a potential trend towards a formidable SH%. If his skill level is higher than what he has shown so far, then we can probably expect his shooting percentage to improve over the long run.

If the team is indeed in a transitional state this season, and looking for a few guys like Giordano and Backlund to be there when the proverbial torch gets passed, this is the ideal environment for Backlund. He will be sheltered to a certain degree but will also bolster his confidence and undoubtedly, his shooting percentages. We have already seen the trend moving towards Giordano on defence. It's time for the kid from Sweden to open up his eager eyes.. He's Mr. Brightside!

E42f2ca09dfb26046c3060ff46473aff
Vintage Flame is a Calgary based sports junkie that prefers to call hockey a "religion" rather than an addiction. He believes there are two types of hockey fans. Those who cheer for the Flames, and those who don't understand the sport yet. Follow Vintage_Flame on Twitter
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#1 Sincity1976
August 24 2011, 05:11PM
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I don't think Backlund is ever going to be a true top line guy. I would rather see developing against the tougher forwards but weaker D in a second line role.

I would also rather see him in a situation where he is driving the play more rather then coasting after Iggy and Tanguay.

However, with the high number of 2 line centers there may not be room for him to helm a second or third line and he may be our best option on the first.

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#2 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 05:27PM
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@Sincity1976

Well, the Flames first line isn't really going to be a "true" top line in the sense of that term. Assuming things go to plan, that is. If Langkow lands with Iginla and Sutter plays them against the big boys, then who knows how it will shake out.

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#3 Kent Wilson
August 25 2011, 08:31AM
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@Sincity1976

My confidence comes from his results with the big boys last year, albeit mostly against the weak lambs of the league. That said, the appetite for a Backlund with Iginla experiment comes from the lack of an ideal option. Honestly, if he lands anywhere but the 4th line I'll probably be satisfied.

Backlund's at the point now where Gio was a few years ago: he's crushing the nobodies and needs to move up the rotation so we can really see what we have here.

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#4 edmontoncritic - BRoadwAY
August 26 2011, 02:16PM
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ChinookArch wrote:

Of all the current veterans on the Oilers, which one excites Oilers fans?

Hmmmmmm Id say probably Andy Sutton. He's clearly going to re-invent himself as a bonafide #1 Defenseman. We might as well trade Whitney because Sutton is gunna be UNREAL! Another huge pickup was Hordichuk. Im fairly certain he's gunna put up 38Gs this year

.......or there is Ryan Smyth. He may classify in this "Oiler Veterans" that juuuuuuuuust maybe, oilerfans may be excited about

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#5 schevvy
August 24 2011, 04:50PM
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I agree Vintage, I think Backlund should be given a shot at playing with Iggy and Tangs. It will be interesting to see how he handles himself the first month of the season, because although he had fantastic numbers with them last year, they played alot of weaker teams during that time, if I remember correctly they played the Avs and Oil multiple times. I hope he plays well, because he is one of the Flames few hopeful prospects.

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#6 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 04:54PM
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@schevvy

because although he had fantastic numbers with them last year, they played alot of weaker teams during that time

You are correct sir.

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#8 Kevin R
August 24 2011, 05:36PM
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Hey Vintage, Killer article(forgive the pun). We are on the same page on this one. Whether he should be that top line or 2nd line is a mute point. He's the best young centre the Flames got & we must will this to work. Give him the year there, throught the highs, the lows, the slumps and the streaks, at the end of the year he will be a way better player sticking with Tangs & Iggy.

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#9 Tach
August 24 2011, 05:43PM
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Two things.

First, I love the statistical analysis, but this "Given that he played two to three minutes less than any other centre, his corsi number blows away the rest of his peers." does not make any sense.

The Corsi given is a rate per time on ice, meaning it has already been adjusted for his time on ice, making the fact that he played less totally irrelevant to the discussion.

The more important to numbers to note for Backlund's corsi rate are his 54.3% zone start (third easiest amongst forwards who played at least 40 games) and his QualComp (-0.630 / Corsi RelQualComp (-0.168) each third easiest (amongst forwards who played at least 40 games). While a smashing corsi rate is nothing to take away from a rookie, he did it while being sheltered both by position and opposition. (As an aside, while I understand the general difference in the calculation of QualComp and CorsiRel QualComp I have never heard a definitive explanation of which more accurately describes the quality of competition. I find that from team to team you get all kind of weird discrepancies.)

Which brings me to my second point, which is if he is going to play with Iginla and Tanguay he is going to have to face some tough competition. As much as many people hope that this duo will be sheltered, they play too many minutes and are too good (plus half your games are on the road) to get away from all the top defensive pairings and forward lines. While I hope my skepticism is misplaced, I still find it hard to believe that Sutter is going to have Backlund lining up against the top centres of the West.

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#10 Zkman
August 24 2011, 06:54PM
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VF: Great article

The kid is an artist. I believe MB is destined for greatness. I think he needs to be given every chance to shine and I think he will be given that. I think he has all the skills required, it just a matter of his confidence catching up to his God given gift. I expect big things for Mikey.

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#11 icedawg_42
August 24 2011, 06:59PM
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Im hoping Backs gets a serious look on some serious minutes this year. The organization needs to know if he is going to hack it. From what I watched in his last year of junior - he's going to be just fine! He just needs the opportunity.

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#12 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 07:10PM
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@Tach

That's all very sensible.

As you say, you can only shelter Iginla so much. They'll play against good players at some point. Backlund might be two or three years from actually being able to face that type of competition for real. Still, it's preferable to playing 10 minutes a night on the 4th line I think. Ideally, I'd like to see him between Moss and Glencross on the third line, which is also possible I guess.

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#13 Section205
August 24 2011, 08:48PM
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Great article. It is the right time for Backlund to take a big step forward and also the right time for the team to give him a chance.

Tach does make some good points. I think I will manage my expectations of Backlund in that role. I also like Sincity's idea of developing a true two-way player to drive the play.

But I still think Backlund has earned his share of opportunity with Iggy and Tangs when the situation appears to be favourable (weaker teams, home ice advantage etc). He also deserves a chance to take a few lumps against better competition. There will be some rough nights.

The way Brent shuffles lines it is certain that Langkow, Olli, Stajan, Morrison and Backlund will all spend some time with Iggy and Tanguay.

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#17 ChinookArch
August 24 2011, 10:08PM
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@Vintage Flame

I agree with your argument in putting Backlund on the first line. I see this season the same way you do, which is the last year before the big RE-BOOT. So, let's get this guy the kind of minutes he needs to see, while sheltering the line in the offensive zone and staying away from PvP situations. More importantly, I would really like to see Jokinen center for Moss Glencross, and I hope Langkow finds more magic with Bourque. This leaves Backlund on the first or fourth line, and he seems like a better fit then the remaining options for the #1 line.

At the end of the day, I suspect Sutter will use the #1 center job as a reward to each of his options - yes including Stajen.

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#18 schevvy
August 24 2011, 10:23PM
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@SinCity1976 and Section205

I see where you guys are coming from in saying that Backlund would benefit from playing tough minutes, but I think Backlund has the potential to become a legit scorer in this league. He has a load of offensive skill, he's got a great shot, he's got speed, I may be crazy but I can see him becoming a 60-70 and even possibly 80 point guy sometime down the road. I think playing with two veterans in Iggy and Tangs who are great offensive players will help him alot, and as Tach said, it's not like he will be completely sheltered. I think for him to be a 60-70 maybe 80 point guy, he's got to play those offensive minutes more than the defensive minutes to develop into the scoring #1 centre I think he can be.

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#19 Sincity1976
August 24 2011, 11:46PM
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Backlund is 22 years old, has fewer then 100 games in the NHL, and played 10:40 of sheltered 5 on 5 per night last season. He is also not a guy that is projected by most to ever be a top line guy.

It might be a bit much to expect him to play 15-minutes a night against the best D in the league for an 82+ game stretch next season.

People give Stajan a hard time. Understandable after last season. But this is a guy who has put up the minutes against tough competition and been successful at it. He is probably our best bet to helm the top line.

It may not be the popular opinion as Flames nation (in general, not the site) have embraced Jokinen. However, I would assess Langkow and Stajan in camp and if they look good to go I would look to trade Jokinen.

There is demand for top 6 centre's across the league and with Jokinen a UFA after the season I would look to move him. Langkow, Stajan, or Backlund are all better in a shutdown role and Jokinen hasn't worked on the top line.

The following line-up looks fine to me:

Tanguay-Stajan-Iginla / Hagman-Langkow-Bourque / Glencross-Backlund-Moss / TK-Morrison-Jackman

You still have Morrison as a safety net, and you keep a window open for the kids to take TK, Jackman’s, or Hagman’s spot.

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#20 Kevin R
August 24 2011, 11:50PM
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Vintage Flame wrote:

"Hey Vintage, Killer article (forgive the pun). "

Haha. Too funny. I actually didn't catch the pun until I saw it the 2nd time... oops

I would like to see him get some decent time with the top line as well.. at least to give him the chance. As Kent said, it may not be bad for him if he played the 2nd line with Moss and Glencross, if that was an option as well, but if those two end up being a third line, then I'm hesitant to see Backlund there.

As I mentioned to Tach, I want to see if this kid can handle significant minutes and playing tougher opposition. He may get roasted some nights, but I think he's too talented to leave on a third or fourth line. Hopefully he learns from the mistakes he will no doubt make. Take the lessons and become a better player. Who knows, maybe if he plays on the 2nd line, he is more apt to develop into a stronger two way player as mentioned by SinCity and Section205.

Ha, I thought you did that deliberately, it's one of their bettter songs. Chinook said it best. This is kind of the last year before the reboot button gets hit, what have we got to lose. The gain of cap space at the end of this year means Feaster will be able to rebalance and have a chance to allocate funds in a different manor. Meaning, that 2nd line could be wide open for Backlund to land with some new faces or perhaps Feaster trades or signs a future Flames star like Parise that Backlund fits perfectly with. Who knows, but Backlund is one of our futures, to put Morrison there over him is being short sighted & to put Stajan there is just about as bad. Stajan will be out of town first chance Feaster gets, why would we give him 1st line experience over our future kid like Backlund. He needs top 2 line minutes and experience this year. This is a contract year for him as well, so I think the incentive will be there.

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#21 schevvy
August 24 2011, 11:55PM
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@SinCity

I just don't like Stajan on the top line. I mean, I'm sure I am just looking at last year and forgetting what he did before last year, but I don't know, I feel more confident in people other than Stajan to centre the top line. I know he had rough percentages last year and the chances of him having a rebound year are good (I mean, how much worse can he get?). I just don't know about him on the top line, I think Backlund compliments Iggy and Tangs better than Stajan.

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#24 Sincity1976
August 25 2011, 12:16AM
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@Kevin R

Stajan isn't going anywhere if he remains parked on the fourth line. Not without us taking back someone elses headache. And if he rebounds why would we want to get rid of him?

@schevvy

Clearly the popular opinion is that Stajan won't work on the top line and Backlund will. I understand the first, I am not confident Stajan will rebound enough either. But I don't understand the confidence of the second.

I think Morrison, Langkow, and Stajan are all more likely fits on the top line. I think we are all just dazzled that we actually have a rookie with top 6 potential and are over estimating Backlund. But I may be pleasently proven wrong.

Regardless, I still don't see a place for Jokinen but that is another story.

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#25 RKD
August 25 2011, 11:34AM
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I am highly skeptical Matt Stajan would be centering the #1 line. If Morrison is ready to start the season, he will probably be between Tangs and Iggy.

If Morrison isn't ready, then I'm sure it would be Backlund.

Jokinen and Stajan are like kryptonite to the first line.

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#26 Derzie
August 25 2011, 12:00PM
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Kent, What the heck does this mean: "Well, the Flames first line isn't really going to be a "true" top line in the sense of that term"

Was I watching a different team and looking at different Top 10 individual stats lists than you? Not sure you should be posting about the Flames if you are that negative in your assessment of talent. Flame away, but words say it all.

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#28 Kent Wilson
August 25 2011, 12:05PM
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@Derzie

I meant in the power vs. power sense. That is being matched up against other teams top lines consistently.

That's not a negative assessment. It's a fact. It's also true of, say, the Sedin twins in Vancouver, who gets some of cushiest ice time in the league amongst "top lines".

It's really a question of categorization than anything else. I consider true first lines to be the guys who play the most against the other teams best players. However, I also sometimes use it in the more common sense - the line that scores the most. In that regard, Iginla/Tanguay are a true top line.

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#30 RexLibris
August 25 2011, 02:35PM
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@VF and KW I have a couple of questions about MB: what is the reasonable ceiling for Backlund's career? I think a 2nd line centre is probably where he's trending right now, but then I don't see him that often. I'm curious what kind of comparables you would draw for him.

Also, would Backlund be best served by being paired with responsible wingers who can help cheat a little defensively so the line doesn't get exploited by some matchups? As I see it he needs confidence at this point for his offensive game to develop.

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#31 negrilcowboy
August 25 2011, 02:49PM
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the future is now for backs.

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#32 rubbertrout
August 25 2011, 03:07PM
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Of course, given that Backlund is really the only prospect of note for the Flames, it isn't surprising that the fans have high hopes for him.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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#33 Kent Wilson
August 25 2011, 03:32PM
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@RexLibris

I'd say a 50+ point guy is the ceiling. His best comparable is probably Patrik Berglund in a lot of ways. Robert took a look at that here:

http://flamesnation.ca/2011/3/16/backlund-berglund-and-what-progress-looks-like

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#35 SmellOfVictory
August 25 2011, 09:55PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

That's all very sensible.

As you say, you can only shelter Iginla so much. They'll play against good players at some point. Backlund might be two or three years from actually being able to face that type of competition for real. Still, it's preferable to playing 10 minutes a night on the 4th line I think. Ideally, I'd like to see him between Moss and Glencross on the third line, which is also possible I guess.

I think he'll be able to handle minutes with Iggy and Tanguay quite well, especially if they do get the cherry ZS. Backs might not be a heavy-hitter yet (and I do think he will be at some point), but he's good enough that I still think he's the best option to play between them if they're deployed in that manner. Langkow and Moss are both good at getting the puck into the offensive zone/keeping it there, but I don't think once they're there they'll be as good at getting it into the net as Backlund will be.

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#36 ChinookArch
August 26 2011, 07:24AM
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rubbertrout wrote:

Of course, given that Backlund is really the only prospect of note for the Flames, it isn't surprising that the fans have high hopes for him.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Of all the current veterans on the Oilers, which one excites Oilers fans?

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#37 Reidja
August 26 2011, 09:49AM
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I've got to agree with VF that it's too early to determine Backs ceiling. Where he fits on the spectrum between first line playmaking center to depth two-way forward with some offensive ability is yet to be determined. I think the fact that we are (rightly) anointing undrafted, one time KHLer, Giordano as a future cornerstone, should remind us that you don't know what you have until opportunity is presented. Determination is hard to measure with stats.

I think the real wildcard for whoever land between Iggy and Tangs (and I too think it may be every center on the team at some point.... sans Joker), will be the play of Rene Bourque. If this guy can play up to expectation he will be a handful and will require teams to adjust in response. Best case scenario for Backlund is an opportunity to play with I/T and a career year for Rene. Is that too much to ask?

Sincity, I can't see us moving Joker unless there's a great offer on the table. He was great value for his contract last year and possibly our most reliable center.

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#39 Reidja
August 26 2011, 11:27AM
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Vintage Flame wrote:

I'm not surprised you think that, and you'll be even less surprised that I disagree with you.

I think the Flames have high hopes or expectations for Baertschi, Howse, Wahl, Breen, Brodie.. There are a few. I'm kind of curious to see what Horak is made of.

Don't forget Byron.

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#40 Craig
August 26 2011, 12:58PM
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My optimism comes from the april 9th game against the canucks. Backlund looked really good with Iggy and Tangs and had a chance to score more goals than the 1 he had. I think that trio will be awesome this year.

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#42 Kent Wilson
August 26 2011, 01:13PM
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@Vintage Flame

If "somewhere" = "Eklund" then I hereby strip you of your contributor status!

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#44 Canucks Suck
August 26 2011, 06:40PM
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edmontoncritic - BRoadwAY wrote:

Hmmmmmm Id say probably Andy Sutton. He's clearly going to re-invent himself as a bonafide #1 Defenseman. We might as well trade Whitney because Sutton is gunna be UNREAL! Another huge pickup was Hordichuk. Im fairly certain he's gunna put up 38Gs this year

.......or there is Ryan Smyth. He may classify in this "Oiler Veterans" that juuuuuuuuust maybe, oilerfans may be excited about

quality post +1

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#45 Kent Wilson
August 27 2011, 11:25AM
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@Vintage Flame

Well...carry on then.

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