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.
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.
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?