Mikael Backlund 2013 WOWY


Kamp mellan Mikael Backlund och Erik Gustafsson

pic via difhockey.se

There’s only two games left in the season and it’s entirely possible Mikael Backlund won’t take the ice again thanks to the team’s efforts to lose as much as possible.

As a result, I’d like to use him to introduce With or Without You, an analytic technique I’ve employed in the past but one that might still be foreign to some people. It’s a method of adding further context to a player’s measures – in this instance, his possession rates. We’ll be replicating this across the Flames roster in an effort to  gauge each guy’s performance this year as well as inform potential roster decisions/discussions down the line.

The Basics

First, here are Backlund’s basic possession stats and their concurrent ranks amongst regular skaters on the Flames:

corsi: +1.09/60 (2nd)

relative corsi: +5.7 (2nd)

zone start: 44.5% (4th hardest)

Primer (skip if you are familiar with corsi analysis)

Corsi is the differential between shots at the net for and against while a player is on the ice (at even strength). It is a proxy measure for offensive zone puck possession and indicative of a players overall performance/effect on the ice. Selke winners and dominating players tend to rate highly in corsi, including Datsyuk, Crosby, Kesler,, Karlsson, Lidstrom, Bergeron, Toews, etc. Corsi also consistently correlates with scoring chance differential, which we’ve discovered from counting chances for years.

The zone start stat is a ratio of offensive zone to defensive zone faceoffs at even strength for the player in question. A low ratio indicates more starts in the defensive zone and therefore a more difficult assignment. 

End primer.

As you can see, Mikael was a team leader in terms of possession this year, which is nothing new for the youngster. This is the first year he had such a difficult ZS ratio, but he nevertheless was in the black in terms of corsi. The only other guy on the team to finish above water was frequent linemate Lee Stempniak.

Now let’s take a look at Backlund’s teammates to see how his presence effected their possession ratios.

Backlund WOWY

With or Without you is exactly what it sounds like – a look at how each players results change with or without another given player on the ice. In this case, we’ll investigate Backlund’s effects on his main linemates this season. Numbers are cosi % (stats via Hockeyanalysis.com)

Player With B Without B % diff
Cervenka 50.5 48.6 1.9
Hudler 50.5 48.3 2.2
Wideman 54.3 49.4 4.9
Butler 43.9 46.3 -2.4
Brodie 64.2 49.1 15.1
Giordano 52.5 48.6 3.9
Stempniak 60.3 49.0 11.3
Bouwmeester 49.2 46.2 3.0

Now in graph form:

As you can see, everyone but Chris Butler (oddly) benefits from Backlund’s presence this season. Sometimes this can be explained by external factors (like if Hartley only started Backlund in the offensive zone), but considering his usage this season, the general positive effects are unlikely to be due to another variable like that.

I limited the list to players who saw at least an hour of ice with Backlund at 5on5, although even that is a very small sample (effect of shortened season + his injury). The effect was similar last year, though, so we can assume we’re capturing some talent in here.


Backlund isn’t going to be a top-end scorer in this league, but he continue to develop into high quality, highly versatile center who can take on tough minutes, move the puck north and make his teammates better when he’s on the ice. Assuming he can stay healthy, he should be one of the pieces management builds around going forward.

  • BurningSensation


    In your mind how does this translate into where Backlund slots into a lineup? Is he a possession driving 2nd line center who can be sortied against the other teams toughs? (i.e. Kesler, Bergeron, Backes, etc.), or does his lack of offense make him a better fit for a 3rd line role? (which just seems wrong to me)

    • It depends on roster configuration, really. Ideally I think you’d want him in a Frans Nielsen role: tough minutes, second unit special teams, not necessarily on your top scoring unit. That probably accords with a Kesler/Bergergon role as well (also Ryan moved to the top unit with the Sedins at some point).

      That said, if the Flames roster doesn’t take a real step forward, he should be the PvP option next year (that is, first line versus first line).

  • xeno

    Backlund’s – effect on Butler probably has to do with difficulty of minutes. With Backlund, Butler probably played against better players and with more defensive starts than without Backlund. Just a guess, but it seems to make sense.

    Strange that a dman would drag a guy like Backlund down so far, though. Butler must really suck. Or it could be a coincidence (sample size, and all that).

    Weird that I still feel the compulsion to defend Butler, even tangentially…

  • SmellOfVictory

    Butler can probably be explained away by the fact that he likely got much easier minutes when he was playing away from Backlund. I know he was up and down the lineup between the three pairings quite a bit until he settled in on the 3rd pairing/health scratch end of things.

    @BurningSensation: I have an opinion on that! 2nd line centre, unless the Flames magically attain two incredibly good top 6 centres (a la Toews/Sharp in Chicago). I don’t know if Backs will end up as good as guys like Bergeron and Kesler (although it’s certainly possible), but I think he’s already relatively close in the 2nd tier of that style of centre.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I think he is our 2nd line center for years to come. He likes it here and he hates the Oilers, he will be a leader on this team going forward.

    I’ve always liked him and always thought he would become a 2nd line center. After defending him for years he is finally making me look good and getting some people to eat crow.

    I feel, just like Brodie, he still has some untapped upside. He is already a 40pt player now, just think what a whole year of no injuries and actual PP time will do to his totals.

    He will be a 50pt guy without much growth, so I dont think there are any doubts he is a top6 center for us.

    • BurningSensation

      Barkov is probably slipping out of reach (likely a top 5 pick), but both Lindholm (a guy I really like, think a dirty NIK Backstrom), or Sean Monahan (better size, but IMO likely less offense) are probably available where we will pick.

      Valeri Nichushkin, Darnell Nurse and Rasmus Ristolainen could all jump into the high end pick conversation as well.

      Of those, Nichushkun has the potential to be the ‘win the draft’ guy, a 6’4″ power/skill winger who can destroy the opposition with a single rush.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Isn’t it time for VF to call the FAN960 morning show again, and make fun of Boomer and Walker? Those guys were relentless in their push for the the Flames to drop Backlund and move on without him. Not that they would take the call, or even admit that they were wrong.

  • piscera.infada

    First off, I would like to say I love the way Backlund plays and I think he will be a top 6 forward for us going forward. I also defended him the past couple years, as the media-driven hyena’s were circling.

    On the other hand though, I think for him to be that legitimate Kesler/Bergeron comparison (or anything near that – because let’s face it, those are mighty big shoes to fit in to), he needs to work on faceoffs. I understand people don’t judge faceoffs as something that “needs” to be addressed (for whatever reason), but the flames have needed an ace at taking faceoffs for years.

    I have noticed improvement on the part of Backlund in this area. But God, I would kill for the second incarnation of Stephane Yelle.

      • piscera.infada

        So a center shouldn’t try to be better at faceoffs?

        I’m sorry that’s a ridiculous statement.

        Look, I’m all for the statistical analysis and advanced stats, but for anyone (I don’t care if it’s Gretzky, Lemieux, or God) to sit here and claim that faceoffs are not an important job of a centerman, nor are they an important part of a hockey game is pure lunacy. I really don’t care if it doesn’t ‘affect’ possession percentage. When you lose a faceoff (especially in your own zone) you are at a distinct advantage. This disadvantage is magnified when your team is prone to getting hemmed in their own zone for extended periods of time.

        I’m not saying that if Mikael Backlund wins 61.6% of his faceoffs (Bergeron’s percentage) we win 82 games a season. All I’m saying is he should be better, every center on this team should be better – especially the one who’s said to be the Bergeron/Kesler type center.

      • loudogYYC

        Do you remember Vancouver 2010 when Bergeron would play single digit minutes per game? It was because he was used on the PK and almost exclusively for defensive zone face-offs. He would win a face-off and as soon as it was safe, he would get off the ice for another Centre. It worked really well.

        Mike Babcock would probably disagree with your statement.

  • RKD

    Backlund is a valuable asset to this team, if he’s comparable to Daymond Langkow that’s good because our team needs a defensive center. However, sometimes too much stock can be put into advanced statistics.

    He might be unlucky but Backs is somewhat injury prone, he’s never played a full NHL season to date. How can a guy help your team consistently if he’s only in the lineup on an irregular basis? If he’s making his teammates better that reflects well on him. However, that means the other guys could be too dependent on him and further reflect the lack of skills amongst the forward ranks.

    • RKD

      a ray of hope on that front is the fact that none of Backlund’s injuries the last two years have been even marginally related (broken finger, dislocated shoulder, MCL sprain, cracked foot). Kind of like that series of freak injuries to Taylor Hall (except Hall’s were even more bizarre) that had people afraid for his career. Backlund doesn’t play as reckless a style as Hall, either.

      So, the injuries might actually stop coming. The fact they’ve happened so much is a concern, but he hasn’t had anything chronic such as a series of concussions.

  • RKD

    Regarding the two names that often appear in connection with Backlund upside discussions (Kesler and Bergeron) it might interest you all to know that I’ve been eyeing the fact that Backlund’s career has been virtually identical to Kesler’s since he entered the league (with slightly better offense/game and fewer games played). This season was the first time there was a significant difference in their results–and Backlund pulled ahead, a little bit.

    Based on career results, it’s entirely reasonable to compare Backlund to Kesler. He doesn’t have as good a shot, though, (or the Sedins on the powerplay) so don’t expect a 40 goal season haha.

  • jeremywilhelm

    I’m getting a bit concerned that both Backs and Brodie have not been extended at this late point in the season. Either things are going well in negotiations and annoucements are imminent or the respective agents are going to make a potential UFA play?

    • marty

      They’re both RFAs, so no.

      There are lots of significant players who haven’t yet been signed. I remember we were all similarly concerned about Backlund last year, but he got signed in the end. And we had a lot more reason to worry last year, too. There is NO way the Flames let Brodie walk, and they’ve shown a lot of trust in Backlund this year.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I can’t believe how absolutely aweful the oilers are! There are no excuses for that organization! As a flames fan it makes me sick that that team, with the wealth of talent it has, will be in the lottery .

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    All i can say is multipe first picks……yeah edmonton i would not trade rosters on this day….keep dreaming in 10 years of #1 picks you might win a cup….cmon you should atleast make an effort….where is the eberle that used to take canada on back….guess the oilers suck even with eberle may aswell trade him……best player by far

  • Jeff Lebowski

    What’s interesting for me with this is, how much further along would Backlund be without the injury interruptions?

    This year and more so late in the year, Backlund is showing a greater confidence with the puck. He is not a Corsi passenger, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck, showing consistent slick stick skills. Finally a Flames player who can be dynamic in the middle of the ice, attacking the middle in possession of the puck and having defences react to his threat. Opening up the ice for his teammates.

    I think if he hadnt been injured he would be scoring more with the growing confidence. I’m looking for this from him moving forward (especially if Sven is his regular linemate).

    To my eyes, I’m also seeing Horak showing potential for similar growth and style of play as Backlund. As with Brodie last season, you see they are all guys capable of making skilled plays and the confidence they gain propels them.

    The pressure is off and you’re seeing the fruits of this kind of environment currently with the younger guys. They see Backlund being a catalyst.

    On a side note, who should be captain next year and what qualities are important to be captain especially given the media driven following of the game ( ie no idiots like Duncan Keith).

  • Jeff Lebowski

    Yes, I remember Andrew Walker openly mocking a certain “interent advanced stats guy.” Pretty obvious who he was refering to. Trying to use his position on-air to rally the average fan to his cause. The average fan whose major knowledge is the point totals column. What a tool that guy is.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    Backlund has always been great at possession, but the time in Sweden did him wonders for his confidence. It’s why I hate when teams rush prospects. Had Backlund just done 1 more year in the AHL to begin with, it would’ve saved a lot of people a lot angst.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Kent, it’s probably been covered on here somewhere before, and if so how’s about a link, but if not,could one of you fine gentlemen put up a post regarding face-offs and wins/possession?

    • piscera.infada

      I would be interested in that, but would assume it would come back as hardly making any difference overall.

      In my mind, faceoffs are more of a situational statistic in that there are some faceoffs that matter less than others through the course of a game. That said, they still matter. A defensive zone faceoff in the final minute of a tied game or a game where your up by one, is far more important than the opening faceoff.

  • seve927

    There was a little discussion on another thread recently regarding Backlund vs Gagner. Interesting to do the same analysis on Gagner. Every single player that has played more than 60 minutes with him were better without Gagner. Hemsky and Paajarvi were his most common linemates, and faced appreciably tougher competition overall than he did. Hemsky with, 42.1, without 47.5. Paajarvi with 42.2, without 46.3. Presumably those guys did better against better competition just because they weren’t playing with Gagner.

    ES Scoring: Gagner 1.58 PP60

    Backlund 1.68 PP60

    So Gagner’s point totals would seem to have a great deal to do with the fact that he happens to get a fair amount of power play time on one of the league’s top power plays. How much he contributes to that is debatable.

    Who would you pick?

  • marty

    i’ve said it before. If backs becomes calgary’s frans neilsen there is nothing wrong with that. feaster should resign him between 3-5 years and at a price tag of between 2-3 mill. he will be worth it.