RFA Profiles: Mikael Backlund

Justin Azevedo
May 24 2012 02:21PM

 

 

Outside of Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, in the 2011-2012 season no player was the subject of debate more then Mikael Backlund.

Looking back now, that debate seems – to me – rather silly.

There are high expectations for Backlund, and there always will be, to some degree. Being a first round pick comes with a lot of pressure. Being the only first round pick to stick with the team since Dion Phaneuf just adds to that pressure.

Uneven Expectations

With Backlund, it really seems like a weird, backwards version of the Rosenthal effect is occurring (I’ll talk more about this leading up to the draft). I don’t think it’s absurd to say that many viewed Backlund as a sort of manifestation of a certain kind of hope – the hope that the Flames turned a corner when it came to drafting. Backlund was basically the exact opposite of the Sutter archetype of big, lumbering and physical. A smaller player who could move and dangle? Those were unheard of in the first round.

For the most part, he’s shown that he’s pretty adept with the puck and he moves around the ice well. But the concerns that allowed him to drop to the Flames’ spot in the 2007 draft continue to dog him – namely, injuries and a lack of scoring talent. Now, I won’t go deep into the arguments for and against Backlund because at this point they’re extremely tiresome and enough digital ink has been spilled over them by myself, Kent Wilson, Pat Steinberg and a host of others.

When Backlund’s on the ice, he takes on second liners and beats them handily in terms of puck possession. He plays a solid defensive game. He positions himself well all over the ice. His passion for the game is unrivaled, if you put stock into that sort of thing.

Oh, and he’s got unreal hands. 


The Concerns

Now, the knocks against Backlund are numerous and they are (mostly) legitimate. As a forward in the NHL, it’s reasonable to expect that you should be producing offense relative to your ability. Depending on whom you ask, that’s what Backlund did last year. While I may not agree with that viewpoint, I will say that a sub-.35ppg season isn’t enough.

I’ve heard from people pretty close to the situation that Backlund wants a one-year deal and no more – it’s possible he views this season as just a down year and won’t commit to term at a price lower then he’s worth. This should work out for the Flames too, as all one-year deals are lower risk by definition and they can expect a bump in performance based purely on luck alone.

As Flames fans, I think it’s time that we step back and realize success cannot be immediate. Backlund has arrows pointing in the right direction – he just needs time to work out the rest of his issues. We tend to forget he’s only 23 because he’s been the focus of our attention for so long now – at this point, I’m hoping he sticks around for an entire injury-free season and repeats his underlying performance from last year. With a little luck, that’ll lead to bigger things on the scoreboard.

If I were the Flames, I’d try my hardest to lock him up as long as possible – 4 years, $8 million seems reasonable.

What did you think of Backlund this season? What would you give him on a new deal? Would you even give him a new deal?

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Justin is a 23-year-old Flames fan who also happens to be pursuing a double major at the University of Calgary. He has played hockey at high levels, enjoys wearing shorts and tends to drink far too much Grasshopper. Please don't hate him.
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#1 MC Hockey
May 24 2012, 02:32PM
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Great job Justin. I was in the other camp whining about "why is he underperforming" but all you advanced-stats smartypantses have convinced me he's worth at least another year with the team and given the chance, will prove himself a good 2nd-line centre. I bet he can score 50 points and be a possession-driver.

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#2 Baalzamon
May 24 2012, 02:51PM
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Absolutely he's worth re-signing! 23 years old, and drives possession against decent competition with defensive starts.

the 99mph slapshot he blasted in the danone superskills in 2011 kind of belies his below-average shooting ability for a lot of people--they expect him to always be blowing it by the goalie from the slot if he's any kind of player, which is obviously absurd. Even so, he should be able to put up decent points with at least one good shooter on his line (though he didn't last season whether that was Cammalleri or Stempniak..)

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#3 Kent Wilson
May 24 2012, 03:19PM
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Backlund's output was terrible last year - there's no getting around it. Some I think was being a 22 year old in his second season in the league and some is he's probably a low percentage shooter period.

But his luck was awful. Awful. One of the best chance ratio on the team but just rotten percentages. Sometimes it goes that way for guys regardless of ability.

Of course, his other issue was health. He was either coming back or going down with injury half the time last year.

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#4 Parallex
May 24 2012, 03:37PM
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Totally worth resigning... when does he lose RFA status? If it's later then next year I'd sign him so that the last year of the contract is the last time that he'll be an RFA.

The way I look at it is that in his second year as a pro he put up the same numbers (in terms of counting stats) as his first year as a pro... except that he did it playing against better guys in tough circumstances. That's an improvement in my book.

He's easily a keeper.

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#5 Gange
May 24 2012, 03:52PM
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His lack of scoring is a red flag but his percentages were terrible. It's hard to believe a kid with that kind of skill continues with low percentages like that.

His injury history is less concerning but it is there.

So in short, I'd re-sign him. I think $2M is a good number.

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#6 MC Hockey
May 24 2012, 04:23PM
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I actually hope the Flames can do better than $2M and get him for $1.5M for 2 years by convincing him he needs to give himself more time to develop into a "top 6 player". After all, NHL contracts are guaranteed so even if a catastrophic injury happens (NOT wishing it to be clear), he still gets $1.5 for both years...I don't think I would give up that kind of dough, but hey, we aren't all paid as well as Kent Wilson.

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#7 MC Hockey
May 24 2012, 04:24PM
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To be clear I meant 1.5 per year for 2 years.

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#8 Mitch2
May 24 2012, 04:40PM
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You don't need to know stats to know Backlund is competent on the ice, all you have to do is watch his game, positionally smart, defensively responsible.

I personally never expected him to be a 1st line Centre, that is a pretty dreamy expectation but a respectable 2nd line two-way Centre should not have been out of the question. No one was expecting Jordan Staal here.

It is easy to see how advanced stats can be enamored with him but really next season is a bottom line evaluation for me.

He is entering his 4th NHL season with 140 NHL games or so under his belt. Once he hits 200 NHL games at the absolute most, the jury will be in on him as a player.

Is this a guy hitting the gym to muscle up or one more comfortable playing with puppies on his off days. If it is the latter his injury issues will continue and I don't care how wonderful his numbers are an injury prone player is a risk.

The bottom line is he MUST score. I don't need to even see 50 pts but 35 should not be unrealistic. It is the whole point of being a forward.

The huge stats argument for Backlund really becomes academic at a certain point if he continues to get injured and fails to score, unless the Flames want to invent a new way of playing hockey that involves 3 Defencemen and 2 forwards on the ice.

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#9 MC Hockey
May 24 2012, 05:08PM
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Good comments Mitch2. Let's hope scoring is up in the NHL next year with less obstruction and maybe Backlund does make at least 35 points but perhaps closer to my hope for 50.

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#10 Austin
May 24 2012, 05:58PM
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6M$ over 3 years should be reasonable. Give him the extra 500K he deserves that way he's more likely to sign. Hopefully next season he can translate his possession abilities into points.

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#11 Sincity1976
May 24 2012, 06:18PM
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Turris and Pacioretty are two players drafted with Backlund that broke out after about 130 NHL games. He isn't behind many players in his draft class.

At worst he is a competent 3-line C. If he does break out he will be a very good 3-line C or even move into the top 6.

It may not meet some people's expectations. But for a 24-overall pick that isn't to bad.

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#12 Ed Ward
May 24 2012, 06:20PM
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Backlund biggest plus is that he is in the magic window of 22-26 years old.

The Flames main focus going forward should be to fill the massive dearth of good players within this age group currently on the roster.

The Cervenka signing was a good start and maybe we can catch a break and convince Suter or Parise or even Justin Schultz to come here.

That being said, acquiring talent within this age range is incredibly difficult. They rarely enter the free agent market and trading for them is either too costly or requires taking a flyer on an under-performing player or someone with "character issues" (a strategy I'm not opposed to).

Usually you have to draft/develop your young players and as was noted in an earlier article the Flames lack of players in this age range is largely a result of poor drafting. I think Feaster has done well so far on this front and am hopeful for this teams prospects four years down the road. However in the near future the Flames are faced with a difficult task of acquiring players in the 22-26 age range.

This difficulty in acquiring capable talent in the 22-26 age range only makes retaining Backlund that much more important. The Flames can't afford to see what little talent they have within this age range walk away.

Capable NHLer, 22 years old, no brainer, I'd be ok with any number under $3 mil per.

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#13 Kevin R
May 24 2012, 07:58PM
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Agree with Ed Ward. Resigning Backlund is a no brainer, give him a little extra to sign for 3 years, so 2.25Mill per season is OK by me. Not over paid by any stretch on a good third line & an absolute steal if he performs over expectations & plays top 6. It was a tough year last year, he lost a little confidence swagger with the injury & by the time he came back, our top players were crapping the bed already.

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#14 Derzie
May 24 2012, 08:03PM
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I'd move him. He's been very underwhelming. Every argument on the 'pro' side trots out the video of his lone pretty goal against Luongo. It was the best game Backlund played as a Flame. He has not come close prior or since. Time to move on.

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#15 T&A4Flames
May 24 2012, 08:10PM
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Derzie wrote:

I'd move him. He's been very underwhelming. Every argument on the 'pro' side trots out the video of his lone pretty goal against Luongo. It was the best game Backlund played as a Flame. He has not come close prior or since. Time to move on.

If you move him now, you are moving him when his stock is probably down. Unless it is a move that , with more pieces, brings in a Jordan Staal type, I would keep him.

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#16 Austin
May 24 2012, 08:27PM
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If Jokinen is not resigned, Backlund may have to take a top 6 role even if he isn't ready for it. Maybe even top 3 if Cervenka isn't ready for it. Because that'll leave us with Cervenka, Backlund, Stajan, Jones, Horak as an extra. You have to resign Mikael Backlund. Just because he didn't put up the points this year is no reason to 'give up' on a 23 year old.....

Just out of curiosity though, if Feaster is considering it, what offer do you think it would take to get Backlund out of here? I want him to stay, and I want him re-signed but just out of curiosity's sake. Would it be worth giving our first round and Backlund to move into the top 3?

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#18 Austin
May 24 2012, 08:56PM
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@Justin Azevedo

But if a team were willing to give that (which is unlikely but not entirely impossible) why wouldn't Galchenyuk/Grigorenko turn out to be better than Backlund?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Backlund but I thin there'd be more upside in one of those two.

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#19 clyde
May 24 2012, 09:18PM
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Backlund is a keeper. Giving him and our 1st up for a top 3 would be enticing if we were confident the player we were getting was going to be much better than Backlund but I don't think that will be the case. What I would like to see is an offer of Granlund to Minny with something else for their pick. They get the Granlunds and we get Reinhart.

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#20 Alt
May 24 2012, 09:21PM
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Justin you,re right. Expectations in Calgary,s first skilled # 1 draft pick in years is unrealistic.As any draft anaylsis would say there are 3 to 4 drop off points in rating the first round of most drafts.Backland was not a part of the elite group or even the 2nd group,so becoming a good 2nd line line center who can put up 40 to 50 points seems reasonable to me. KEEP HIM

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#21 BurningSensation
May 24 2012, 09:49PM
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Virtually the definition of 'no brainer' - keep him.

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#22 John Deere Green
May 24 2012, 09:56PM
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This is just a question thrown out to anyone. If Backlund is not able to put up points but is good at driving the play in the right direction, is there not a younger or cheaper version that can be found either within the organization or via trade/free agency? The Flames organization seems to groom decent/good/great defensive players, do they not have anyone else that can play his role cheaper? I guess what I'm getting at is, are the Flames eager/willing to lock into a contract long term (3? 5?+ years), with yet another good defensive player that can't score? Now, if there is some way of knowing if he's going to produce even average 2nd or 3rd line players point totals in the upcoming years, then yes sign him up today. I just want a change in direction with this team, it's starting to get frustrating to watch or listen to this team.

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#23 RexLibris
May 24 2012, 10:26PM
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I would advocate keeping Backlund with the team. However, I would also advocate that one of the team's goals should be to develop enough talent in the middle to be able to have him centering the third line.

If the Flames can find the depth in the middle such that Backlund, by the age of 25, is their third-line center, they will have made significant strides in the right direction.

All easily said...

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#26 Ryan Pike
May 25 2012, 12:41AM
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Mikael Backlund isn't a 30 goal, 60 point, first line center at age 23. Boo-hoo. Not a lot of guys are.

What he has shown to be, is a fairly effective, moderately tough-minutes center. He can play the power-play or the PK, he's about average on face-offs and he's got good two-way instincts.

He's also shown to be a good "team" guy. He hurt himself standing up for a teammate (and IIRC, he was already playing injured). He learned a LOT this season and I think a one-year deal for Backlund is a very smart move for both sides.

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#29 First Name Unidentified
May 25 2012, 01:13AM
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1) All those complaining about his fitness because he was hurt need to give it a rest. Last year he had two injuries - a cut on his finger and an injured arm. It's not like he had his knee cap replaced or suffered a severe concussion.

2) Isn't the whole objective of the organization moving forward to get younger, faster and skilled? How does not signing Backlund take a step in that direction?

3) We are too quick on judging his scoring ability. In his first full year (2010-2011) he played decent with protected ice time. His second year, he was given a 2-way C/backchecking role by Sutter. Not surprising to see the lack of production.

4) My opinion says he will be a great fit with Sven where a decent RW (like TK last year) will help these two participate in producing, in addition to adding skill and speed. Good defensive play of Sven doesn't hurt either.

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#30 Graham
May 25 2012, 08:29AM
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Life is about seizing opportunities, so the arrival of a new coach in Calgary is going to give Backlund another golden opportunity to prove that he is a top six forward, not a defensive minded 3rd line center.

Backlund simply has to step up and take the opportunity, he has the skill set to be a valuable two way center scoring 40 + points, playing on the second line and commanding an appropriate salary. If his scoring continues at his current levels, even with his other skills, he projects as a third line guy who can play some hard minutes, but he is going to be compensated accordingly ($1.5 - $2.0 million). If Cervenka drives the offense required for the second line, and Jones the grit and defense on the third, Backlund could find himself fighting for a spot , and potentially expendable. The puck is in Backlunds end of the ice.

I would resign him to a one year contract and let him prove his value.

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#31 everton fc
May 25 2012, 08:35AM
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I see Backlund as a 3rd line, two-way centre capable of 40 pts max. So I'd say he's worth re-signing.

I cant see him as a #2 centre. But that's me. My opinion.

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#32 MC Hockey
May 25 2012, 11:19AM
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As mentioned by me in past, I do like Clyde's (and my) idea of giving up our Granlund with something else so he can play with his brother in Minny. But what else do we have to give up (our 1st?) to make it happen and do we get a top player with their choice? In the end, I don't agree getting Reinhart is the ideal solution if a reasonable trade is first made but like Galyenchuk idea better due to reasons cited about D-men developing slower and less likely to impact the team overall.

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#33 Sincity1976
May 26 2012, 09:48AM
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I crunched some numbers to see how productive various line combinations were. Fairly simple approach. I used Dobbers Hockey to determine the amount of points produced by each line and then evaluated that relative to the amount of time each line was together.

What I found was that the top line (Iginla/Tanguay or Iginla/Cammalleri) was the most productive with either Cammalleri or Matt Stajan at the C position. Jokinen was a step behind them. And Backlund was a significant step below that.

Which is my larger concern about Backlund in the top 6. It is one thing that he isn't producing while in the top 6. It is another thing that the top 6 fails to produce as a unit while he is on it. TP: % of Time Played P: % of Points Produced D: Differential between time played and points produced.

Tanguay-Cammalleri-Iginla: TP (2.05%) P (3.95%) D (192.68%) Tanguay-Stajan-Iginla: TP (3.18%) P (5.59%) D (175.79%) Tanguay-Jokinen-Iginla: TP (3.74%) P (6.25%) D (167.11%) Glencross-Jokinen-Iginla: TP (9.35%) P (13.49%) D (144.28%) Tanguay-Backlund-Iginla: TP (2.01%) P (1.32%) D (60.20%) Cammalleri-Backlund-Iginla: TP (1.26%) P (0.00%) D (NA)

If anyone is interested in seeing the break out of all the common lines it is located here: http://fans.flames.nhl.com/community/blog/37/entry-69-20112012-flames-line-review/

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#34 Jeff In Lethbridge
May 26 2012, 10:51AM
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My concerns with Mikael Backlund:

NO LEADERSHIP:

This is obvious by observing how willing he is to try and follow the coach’s goofy system – which has led him to wasting time by back checking and by coming back into the zone to help defense get the puck moving forward. Leaders aren’t so easily pushed around by clueless coaches.

TOO OLD:

I know this is stating the obvious, but it’s still a real concern. Backlund is so far on the wrong side of thirty that I can’t believe we are wasting our time, when we can STILL get proven talent like Mark Recchi, Mike Modano, Teemu Selanne, Doug Weight, or Kris Draper.

ALWAYS OUT OF POSITION:

When I look up ice to the offensive blue line, expecting to see our forwards waiting for the cherry pass, I feel like pulling my hair out! Where the heck is he?? Oh, great… there he is – playing behind our own blue line like he is some sort of defenseman, or else he battling in the tough areas, or skating the puck safely along the boards. Everyone (but Backlund) knows that talented forwards are supposed to be standing idle by the blue line waiting for a pass.

CONTRACT:

If Backlund was any good, he’d have a no-movement or no-trade clause like the good players do…

SERIOUSLY:

sign him to a two or three year deal at 1.5 salary plus 1.5-2.0 in potential performance related bonus’… incentives to create a win-win.

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