Defending Mikael Backlund


Seems like there’s a bit of a groundswell in support of the idea of sitting Mikael Backlund for a few games. Points haven’t been coming for the 22-year old center since his return and his rough second period last night probably lends credence to the notion.

I contend Mikael has been mostly excellent since he was re-activated, however.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Backs has just 3 points in 17 games so far this season. Not a stat line that would impress anybody. However, his relative corsi rate is +14.8 – the best amongst regular skaters. That means the Flames generate 14.8 more shots at the opposition’s net when Backlund is on the ice versus when he’s on the bench. As a result, Backlund sports one of the best scoring chance ratios on the Flames currently as well (54.4%).

Aside from last night, the Backlund, Comeau and Stempniak line has been a pretty consistent in terms of outplaying other team’s third lines on a nightly basis. I consider their formation part of the reason Calgary has been able to capture points in the standings so consistently in the last 10 games or so.

So why isn’t the kid scoring? A couple of reasons:

1.) Bad luck

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

A PDO (on-ice SH% + SV%) of 93.7. The league mean is 100 and almost everyone tends to regress to it in the long-term. Backlund’s luck has been terrible to start the year. His on-ice shooting percentage at 5-on-5 is just 4.46 (whereas most skaters hang around 8% or so). We know the Backlund trio has been generating chances, so it’s not like one can claim pucks aren’t making their way to the opponents net when he plays. They just aren’t going in at a league average rate right now.

At some point, the boucnes will even out and his scoring at ES will improve.

2.) Limited PP ice

Backund has averaged less than 1:30 on the PP per game this year. He’s seen a total of 25 minutes with the man advantage. By contrast, Iginla, Tanguay and Jokinen are already over 100 minutes. It’s tougher to put up notable point totals – or to break out of slump – when you don’t see much time on the PP.

I’ve been relatively pleased from what I’ve seen out of Backlund this season, last night aside. His skating seems faster and he’s no longer taking prayer shots from way outside of the scoring area. Once the percentages rebound for him, the perception of his struggles will likely disappear.


Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

  • RKD

    i don’t see many flames games. i find them depressing. but backlund hasn’t looked very terrible at any given point, outside of a poor period here and there. i’m assuming the bench warming tonight is due to illness or injury, and not performance.

    that being said.. Ken King.. who knows.

      • Greg

        Well that’s because everybody is equal, it’s just that some are more equal than others.

        Or am I wrong? It looks like Sutter may have sat him for the entire 2nd period last night.

        At least Iginla has rediscovered his touch for putting himself back on the score sheet.

        As far as Backlund goes, once again the Flames are back to their usual old tricks of turning players who were once prolific scorers into career 3rd liners. I just don’t get it. Well, when he ship him out in 2 years for being a bust because he din’t score 40 from the 3rd line he can say hello to Lombardi, Saprykin, Kobasew, Boyd and the like.

        This is why I wanted him on the farm last year. So that he could develop ‘his’ game. Next season Sutter will stick him in a similar spot to fail.

        Sorry, but I’ll take Backlund over BMo any time.

  • xis10ce

    Blake Comeau looked bad in NYI as a result of bad luck too, I have no doubt that things will take a turn for the better for Backs, it is sad that they are sitting him.

  • RKD

    Backlund was a consistent player on the top line when Tanguay and Iginla were struggling.

    Injuries can really hamper progress, especially and hand injury. Even with his pinky finger healed, it probably took some time to regain his strength to pass and shoot.

    He’s coming around shooting more and scored two goals. I don’t think scratching Backlund is wise.

  • Scott

    Thank you Kent!

    There are many many players on this team that should sit before backlund does. He came back from an injury, so perhaps his slow start could relate to that a bit as well.

    He don’t normally notice when Backlund makes a mistake these days, which is a really good sign. Seeing Butler laying down beside Kipper and having 2 own goals is very noticeable however.

    The troubles with this team is not the bottom six by a really far stretch. And since December started, the top line hasn’t been a problem either. You can start to narrow the problem areas down pretty easily right now.

    I think its safe to say that JBo is not weighing the team down right now. Neither is Brodie or Smith. Kippers been good too.

    So any player not mentioned should sit before Backlund does. IMO.

  • RKD

    I know I keep bringing this up, but if you write some stats, and then invalidate them by saying “it’s bad luck” – a totally non-quantifiable term, if there ever was one – then you need to look at your statistical analysis, and perhaps figure out why you can’t reconcile them to actual performance on ice.

    • I would say, then, that you don’t understand statistical analysis at all.

      “Natural variance” is one of the biggest aspects of stats, particularly in bounded, Gaussian environments like sports. Goals are probabilistic outcomes based on chances on goal. All shots have a given probability of going in which goes up or down based on how far the shot was taken from the goal and other factors. Sometimes they don’t go in at expected rates as a matter of chance. Like flipping a coin and landing on heads 5 times in a row.

      Bad luck in the NHL is actually rather quantifiable. As I note in the article, on-ice SH% + SV% tends to regress to the mean of 100 over the long-term for most players. This isn’t a guess or theory…it’s a fact that’s been shown over and over again since the lock-out.

      So if a player’s percentages are well below 100 and he’s routinely outchancing the bad guys, then we can safely say his bad results are an outcome of random variance (ie; bad luck) more than bad play. He’s on the wrong end of the the bell curve which just happens to some players, especially in short samples like 17 games.

      So please, stop bringing up the claim that bad luck “is non-quantifiable again and again” – you’re ignored because you are wrong.

  • Kent, I think you are wrong on this one.

    Backlund isn’t getting sat because of his overall play (at least I think), he is getting sat because he did something incredibly stupid with the puck in his own zone. That’s not a problem limited to 11 alone (cough Butler cough) because the Flames as a whole are a stupid (no poise) team. And because the team is stupid, coach probably feels he needs to set the tone, and it’s easy to do that with 11. His play as a whole is probably accorded less weight in the decision making process than his play last night.

    Personally, I would have sat Glencross, but I guess coach doesn’t want to deal with glencross’s father calling him and yelling about it.

    • If that was the reason for sitting players, half the team would find the press box most nights. He definitely had a bad outing yesterday, but I can guarantee if pucks were going in for him, he wouldn’t be in the press box tonight.

      • That just isn’t realistic. As long as they are pretending to be a contender, they can’t sit anybody in the top six. That means your choices are only available to the bottom six.

        The player that made a huge error they don’t tolerate in midget is getting sit because he made an error they don’t tolerate in midget AND they happen to have a centre who the coach trusts in his own zone sitting in the press box.

        It’s seems pretty clear to me why the kid is sitting (unless he is getting traded for Turris Whalen help us). You are probably right when you say if he was shooting 15% as opposed to 5% he wouldn’t be sitting, but what ifs don’t count for a lot while the team is still in point chasing mode.

  • Vintage Flame

    For the love of God, how long have we been saying that the Flames are not playing Backlund in the right circumstances.

    Kent, I agree with what you said on twitter;

    Im extremely dubious of this idea that sitting out “helps” players. I’ve never seen that proven at all.

    I have to agree with this and I’ll add that I can’t remember how many times myself and others have said that Backs needs to be playing on one of the top two lines, not buried on the third and fourth.

    Has he had some bad luck, absolutely. He’s hit a few posts and crossbars, but like the numbers show above, how the hell do you sit a guy that generates 14+ more shots when he’s on the ice?

    Fine, he had a bad game, errr period, last night. If the Flames are going to bench someone for 1 bad game, then someone please explain to me how the HELL Stajan is STILL in this line up??

      • Vintage Flame

        It’s far easier for two below average wingers to pull down a center to their level of performance, than it is for 1 rookie [basically] center to raise the level of the entire line.

        If you continue to deploy Backlund in less than favorable combinations instead of putting him in the top six, while at the same time sheltering that line as an offensive scoring line, he will eventually become what you make him; another Matt Stajan.

  • Well this just ticks me right freaking off!! This is just BS, I sure hope this is just the flue. Yeah tough 2nd period, tough for the whole damn team. I think Stemper, Backlund & Comeau were developing great chemistry &were one of the few consistent lines Sutter kept intact this last while. I considered them the 2nd line & a quite capable 2nd line. This is BS! I just dont understand how this leads to consistency in team performance. Not happy right now.

  • the forgotten man

    “How to Destroy a First Round NHL Pick – 10 easy steps”

    Co-Authors: Darryl (Daz) Sutter & Jay Fatster
    Foreword: Ken (Huckster) King
    Introduction: Brent (Butter) Sutter
    Special Thanks to Garth Snow & Irving Grundman for your inspiration and wisdom.
    89 pages Canada
    Printed in Vulcan

  • Graham

    Maybe we need to adjust our projections for Backlund. He isn’t looking like a first line offensive guy, but more like a second line, two way forward. If he develops into a Langkow type, strong defensively & 20 ish goals, I would be quite satisfied.

  • Scott

    If you want backlund to score goals, you have to give him the opportunity to do so. Next to now powerplay time means they don’t want Backlund to score goals. Why? Because he’ll be cheaper when his contract comes due, and he becomes an easy scapegoat. This team still operates on a mentality that salary and veteran status means your better than the young guy. Skill doesn’t seem to come into the equation at all with this team. If your old or cost a lot, you get to play.

  • Anyone who has been following the weekly Black Box knows that Backlund has been playing well but stung by bad luck.

    Simply put: the Calgary Flames do better when Backlund on the ice in every way but goals. They take more shots, get more chances, have greater possession. Every week he sits near the top by virtually any team measurement.

    Furthermore, if you look at the OZQoC Charts, he’s the only Calgary Flames forward playing a significantly tougher assignment than the previous season. You shouldn’t expect him to be better than last year (but he is, by most measurements).

    Good work Kent. Don’t bench him, just wait.

  • loudogYYC

    I’d like to think and hope Brent has a good feel of his players by now and expects Backlund to come back on fire next game.

    As to what says about BMo playing the 2nd line cuz he’s smarter? I say it has more to do with the wingers in that case. Backlund has the speed to play with Comeau and therefore create a little more room for Stempniak and make plays happen. You put BMo on that line and you get a different result.

    I hope Backlund and Horak are in next game. Nothing against BMo, but he should be our reserve forward.

  • the forgotten man

    BMo plays well in stretches, but Backlund and Horak are the future. Horak needs to go down to the farm for awhile and play some top line minutes. Bring him back up for the last 10 games or so and then send him back down for the AHL playoffs.

    Backlund needs top 6 minutes to develop. I’ve said it a 100 times, either let guys develop their offense in a development league or live with their mistakes in the top 6 in the NHL. But keeping them on the 3rd line during this stage of their development just turns them into career 3rd liners.

    All this talk of doing things differently by Feaster and yet we’re still developing players the same as we have been since the early 90’s which is to say not at all.

    Re-sign Stempniak if it’s reasonable. Re-sign Jokinen if he’ll agree to take a cut down to $2 million/year. Keep Tanguay and Glencross.

    Keep Jay Bo unless you can’t ignore the return.

    Trade Kipper and Iggy for futures and so that we tank and get a top 5 pick.

    This team can turn it around in 2 to 3 years with some brains and some balls, but why is it I see us coming back with largely the same squad again next year, once again spouting crap about being a playoff team? This team is Groundhog Day. In fact, Bill Murray would probably run the team better than the current regime.

    Watch us lose both Iginla and Kipper for nothing and then be forced into a 6 year Oil-style rebuild.

    I’m starting to lose my patience with this club.

    Time for some articles that focus on ownership and the reasons that they refuse to pull their collective heads out and see that things are not working and haven’t in a very long while.

    • the forgotten man

      Count me in with “the-wolf” on everything he said except I would also ditch Tanguay if I could.

      More importantly, I agree that the Microscope needs to be pointed away from the Rink.

      20+ years of futility and redundancy is not just an on-ice problem. I’ve said it a million times on Flames Nation and Domebeers (you owe me a beer for the plug) that until King/Feaster et al. are gone, the healing can not begin. One is otherwise just sticking another piece of gum in the crumbling dam until that happens.

      Bring in Lanny for Prez, let him fire everyone else below him and rebuild with a team of individuals who can string together sentences along with proven Hockey Smarts (is it too much to ask for both in one individual?? – Alas, with the Flames apparently so.)

      PS – if I was Baertschi, with this current Admin. regime, I’d have to be considering a “Tim Erixon” maneuver if I cared at all about my career.

      • the forgotten man

        The only thing though is that King is just the owners axe-man. I mean, maybe he influences their decision making and feeds them a bunch of crap, but these are multi-millionaire successful businessmen who hired him, not the other way around. While I don’t care for Ken King one bit, at the end of the day he’s just following orders. The spotlight needs to shine on ownership, as reclsuive as they may be. Problem is, I don’t think any media types have the stones to go after them. I’m pretty sure that one phone call from Murray Edwards could put most people’s junk in a vice real quick.

    • everton fc


      I’d like to see Backlund parked between Tanguay and Bourque. In fact, I think Horak might do well partnered with Tanguay. Evidence of this in pre-season…

      So while I agree Backlund (and Horak) need 2nd line minutes… I think Backlund truly is a 3rd line centre in this league. And that’s not a bad thing, if he plays his role.

      “All this talk of doing things differently by Feaster and yet we’re still developing players the same as we have been since the early 90’s which is to say not at all.”

      I tend to agree with this statement.

      I’d sign Stempniak. I’d re-sign Jokinen, too. I’d move JBo, though. If possible. His value is certainly not what it was a few years ago, though.

      I’d hold Iginla, but I would also move Kipper. We have an exceptionally deep draft in 2012. Kipper could get us a # 3-6 pick in the 1st round, and a prospect. I have said it before, I’d love to see Dumba on our blueline someday. I’d target this kid. But that’s me!

      It’ll be interesting to see how this club looks on New Year’s Day. Where we are in the standings. The return of Moss should help. But we have no true first line. A huge issue that needs resolution. If not this season, than during the summer months…

  • everton fc

    “20+ years of futility and redundancy is not just an on-ice problem. I’ve said it a million times on Flames Nation and Domebeers (you owe me a beer for the plug) that until King/Feaster et al. are gone, the healing can not begin. One is otherwise just sticking another piece of gum in the crumbling dam until that happens.”

    Yep. We need to be more progressive. Not sure about Lanny. Not even sure we keep Brent. I’d love to see a young gun behind the bench. A technical guy whose also a strong leader.

    Who wouldn’t?

    I actually feel for Brent some days…

    I wonder if a guy like Lanny (or Peplinski) could actually inject some life into this franchise?

  • everton fc

    @everton fc

    I’ve never projected Backlund as a true #1 center as some have. That said, I think he’s more than a 3rd liner. He should be a very good #2 centre if given the chance.

    The Pronger situation opens up some interesting possibilities as far as Jay Bo is concerned if for no other reason than he can eat just as many minutes up/game as Pronger did.

    But Jay Bo and Gio are the only true top pairing D we have, so the return would have to be very good.

    • everton fc

      I know you never saw Backlund as a #1. And I support Backlund’s getting a chance on the 2nd line. What do we have to lose?

      Morrison would be a nice fit between Comeau and Stempniak. Maybe Stajan can get a chance between these two? Againm, what do we have to lose?

      Good point on the Flyers situation and possible interest in someone like JBo. I say we pull the trigger and dump the albatross contract. The return for JBo may indeed be a good one, seeing Pronger may be on the shelf permanently. I’d take a first rounder and a prospect. But he may not be worth that these days…

      I wonder how Brodie would do w/Gio?

  • everton fc

    To me it’s next to criminal that none of Lanny, Pepper, Otto or Hunter are with the club.

    Maybe Otto in a few years when his son is older. I’d love to see him as an associate coach with the Flames. Hunter too.

    Pepper for prez, Lanny as special advisor.

  • everton fc

    Hunter is apparently one of the most progressive assistants in the business. That’s what I’ve read.

    I agree – bring in some of those who stucj around and care about the organization. Of course, this didn’t work so well for the Oilers with Lowe… But it might here.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    I’m late to reply here so hopefully this isn’t redundant:

    You watch Backlund and there is talent. I think he needs to be more aggressive in the offensive zone. Take the puck to the net, shoot more, stop going to backhand when he’s in close. Basically be more of a direct player. Play more in the tough areas.

    To my eyes, Backlund does so much good stuff (except win draws) until he gets into the offensive zone, where he becomes less assertive.

    I want to see him attacking the middle of the ice more, draw some penalties take some hard shots on net. Just be relentless and not be denied. Force your way onto the PP.

    Teams will give you the cycle since it happens in the corners. However, teams will collapse down hard, hook and slash when you try to attack the middle of the ice. Take shots, create confusion and motion by the other team, just be relentless in taking the puck right down their throats. It only opens up the game for you if you do.

    Not to compare but watch Crosby. He gets the puck and takes it hard to the net. Direct. That is when he’s in the lineup.

  • Franko J

    Backlund will be just fine. Although his progression has been slower than most Flames fan would like, remember he is only 22 and he is still learning the game. Look at Irving, first start tonight after being drafted 6 years ago. Patience and time. Just think next season he will have to learn a new system again with a new coach. Hopefully, Backlund will develop and reach his potential under different coach(es)like Jokinen has this season under Brent.

    Sometimes as much as players need to mesh with one another on the ice, players have to feel “it” with the proper coach as well.

    Yes there is a number of players on a nightly basis who play well below their potential with this team and deserve to see the press box, however, there are only so many seats available up there. Lately the try and effort has been demonstrated by the Flames, but too many times in the game they go through stretches of defensive lapses which cost this team wins.

    I believe after Jan 1 teams can negotiate player contracts for the next season. I would hinder a guess that there is already in place a few contract offers on the table and ready to be signed. Blake Comeau and
    Lee Stempniak to name a couple.

    After the trade deadline and Flames have vanished from the playoffs, you will see a heavy dose of Backlund, Horak, Brodie, and Smith.
    Maybe even a new player or two.

    As I’ve said before, Lanny and Pep were dissed by the owners when Al Coates and company were in charge, and why would they be interested now in helping the current ownership group. IMO I wouldn’t.

    @ the forgotten man

    Baertschi is signed already, therefore the only way he won’t be in a Flames uniform is via a trade. Baertschi is the #1 prospect for this organization and bonafide blue chip prospect. As long as Feaster is allowed to call the “shots” for this team he won’t be going anywhere.

    After watching last nights game I really believe that René Bourque does have some type of physical ailment. I remember at the beginning of training camp he said that halfway through last season he felt fatigued and worn down. So far this season I don’t see the same player that he was even a few seasons ago. Right now Blake Comeau has replaced René Bourque as the high energy player with skill.