RFA Profiles: Mikael Backlund



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?

  • MC Hockey

    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.

  • MC Hockey

    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/

  • RedMan

    My concerns with Mikael Backlund:


    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.


    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.


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


    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.