2014-15 REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: MIKAEL BACKLUND

As we prepare for the upcoming Calgary Flames season, we here at FlamesNation will be bringing back an old favourite from yester-year: the Reasonable Expectations series, looking at what we can expect from the Flames on an individual basis based on their previous performances. To kick things off, new dad Byron Bader brings us a look at a FlamesNation favourite.

Mikael Backlund is an interesting case. Up until the 2013-14 season, he was regarded by many as a disappointment who hadn’t lived up to expectations. To a small community of underlying-number enthusiasts, like the folks at FlamesNation, Backlund has always been an excellent possession player.

Season       Corsi %              Corsi Rel %        P/60           
2010-11 56.6% 6.7% 1.7
2011-12 50.8% 5.4% 1.05
2012-13 50.9% 4.6% 1.98
2013-14 51.7% 7.3% 1.66

 

Backs has never scored very much in his career to date (this is partially because he hasn’t been given much of a sustained opportunity to do so) but, on abysmal Calgary Flames teams, he’s been one of the only positive Corsi players.  

In 2013-14, Backlund emerged offensively as well.

BACKLUND’S 2013-14 NUMBERS

 Splits

Points    

PPG    

P/82
Games    

S%             

Avg.
Ice Time      
 

Oct
– Nov    

8

0.32

26.6

5.4%

14:33

Dec
– Apr

31

0.6

49.2

11.3%

20:22

The 2013-14 season for Backlund can be split into two distinct parts – the good and the bad. 

Earlier in the year, for reasons unknown, Backlund was treated…ambivalently by the coaching staff. He was routinely in the coach’s doghouse, often playing limited 3rd/4th line minutes (keeping those lines afloat single-handily mind you) and was even scratched all together on a few occasions. He saw very, very little power-play time as well.

Around December, something clicked for Backlund and the bench bosses. His average ice-time shot up by 30% and he was frequently used as the first line center. He became one of few forwards the Flames would deploy in any situation without hesitation. 

Also, for the first time in his career, he received ample playing time with noteworthy NHLers (mostly Cammalleri and Hudler) and first unit power-play time. Simply put, when Backlund played with offensively capable NHL players and some PP time, he scored at an entirely respectable 50-point pace.  

2014-15 EXPECTATIONS

Backlund is in the doghouse no more. Hartley seems to be a real big fan of Backlund these days, even referring to him as one of the best two-way centers in the entire league last year.

Bennett is likely going back to junior. Arnold, Knight, Granlund and Reinhart will battle for the 4th center spot or switch to wing. Stajan will likely be staple on the 3rd line while possibly jumping up from time to time to take pressure off of Monahan. Monahan is a big piece of the Flames future but he will likely still be quite sheltered this year. Thus Backlund manning a 1A or 1B line and doing the heavy lifting is almost a guarantee.

Assuming Backlund mans one of the first two lines, his regular linemates should be a combination of Mason Raymond, Jiri Hudler, Curtis Glencross, Johnny Gaudreau, Joe Colborne and/or Sven Baertschi. Backlund will therefore play the majority of the 2014-15 season with pretty capable talent and I see the offence following a similar pattern to the last 52 games of the 2013-14 season (45-50 points over 82 games). Backlund will also continue to be one of the Flames’ only possession powerhouses. A caveat on these predictions is how much playing time Backlund gets with Gaudreau and the Brodie/Giordano combo.  

Gaudreau has only one NHL game under his belt but his possession numbers were through the roof (I don’t think that’s going to be an anomaly). As well, Gaudreau has a track record of boosting the point totals of players on his line. Perhaps Gaudreau will slot in with Monahan and form a deadly combo that mops up the easy minutes but perhaps he’s paired with Backlund instead to control play and the two could be electric together.

Backlund, Brodie and Giordano have already shown that they form a possession super monster when they’re on the ice together. I have little doubt Gaudreau will add another head to that monster. Backlund playing with those three, coupled with a significant boost in PP time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Backlund in the 55-60 point range and costing the Flames a fortune to re-sign next summer.

  • piscera.infada

    I’ve said it many times before, but I have to agree with you here. If you want to give Gaudreau the best possible shot at make a big impact this season, play him with Backlund. It would be great for both of them, and whomever you place on the other wing. Gaudreau will end up there eventually anyway.

    Congrats to you and your family, man.

  • mk

    Congratulations on becoming a father! I recently (a month ago) joined the same club myself.

    Also, good work RE: Backlund. Any particular reason that you think Gaudreau will be a possession monster? (Aside from him being the best thing since sliced bread)

    • Byron Bader

      He just appears so good at holding on to the puck and alluding players. I figure he’ll have the puck for long stretches of the game.

      Granted, I’ve only seen Gaudreau play about five times. But every time I see him play he really has that Patty Kane “come and get me” thing with the puck. I’m not sure if he’ll be a possession player like Backlund (e.g., good in both ends and can retrieve the puck deep in the d-zone). I see him more as the player that the team will look to once they get possession to get them up the ice and start the o-zone pressure … sort of the way Brodie drives at the opposition once he gets ahold of the puck.

      Perhaps he’s not a possession monster out of the gates (younger players almost always get their heads smashed in) but I just get a good feeling that he’ll be one of their stronger possession players in short order.

      • Jeff Lebowski

        I think at worst, Gaudreau will be a zone entry machine. THAT will create offense.

        He holds on, assesses the ice, and picks out guys coming free. Feathering passes through sticks and skates. Uncanny.

        Not to mention finishing on his own. He will draw plenty of penalties too.

        • Robear

          Not to be a downer on the Johny Hockey Love Fest, but I worry that these expectations are too much.

          Not that people will try to hang him if JG doesn’t meet the sky high expectations… at least not people on this site.

          But I expect that he will still need to go through a learning curve of playing in the best league on the planet.

          That will include nights where JG goes all Johnny Hockey on the opposition and collects 5 pts and dangles like the puck is on a string. But I fully expect that there will be other nights where he might try to do too much or get too cute and the 10 giveaways all end up in the back of the net.

          Having said all that, I am still drooling at the prospect of being able to watch him develop into what I sincerely hope will be an elite NHL player. My wife is already sick of me pulling on my “Gaudfather” shirt and stepping up the pulpit to harangue her with my take on his skills. I just dont necessarily expect (or even WANT [Hello McDavid!]) him to reach those lofty heights this season.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Watching Backlund between McGratton and Westgarth was excruciating for me. Now that he has proved himself, I hope to see much more from him, and I think it will mean better boxcar results as well.

  • mk

    Congrats Byron,

    Good article. I think Johnny is legit, but maybe expecting sustained insane possession numbers through 82 is a stretch, especially if he is matched with Backlund playing toughs. I think in that situation, you probably see Backlund carrying Gaudreau possession wise a bit, while maybe Gaudreau boosts Backs 5on5 numbers by adding a new speed and transition element to the line.

  • Lordmork

    Congratulations, Byron!

    I’m really excited about Backlund this year. I’m sure he and Gaudreau will draw together at some point, and I hope to see fireworks when they do.

    • Yes, congratulations ! And this ride will last for another 18 or so years…
      Hopefully the Flames rebuild will not last so long.
      I think 1-1a job is his to lose. Monahan slots in at a sheltered no.2, hopefully with Hudler and GlenX or Colborne (who will no doubt be back on the wing).
      This leaves Stajan on 3rd and a prospect on 4th. Wouldn’t it be swell if we rolled 4 lines- minus the below-replacement- level wingers (whom shall remain McGratton, Bollig and Westgarth) and gave more time to all the Young’ Uns?

  • Daves Waves

    Congratulations Byron!

    Backlund will be a gem for years. Can you imagine the things that we would see if Backlund’s insane Corsi was put on the same line with Johnny’s (current) 100% SH%? A fan can only dream!

      • Well this year we had only one player reach above 50 points and the highest scoring centre was Backs with 39 points, and we were only 4th overall. If he scores 50 points this year, maybe we are out of the top three. We’ll still be bad, but not top three bad.

        Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think 2014-15 is the break out season for Backlund. 39 points is a low number relative to other NHL centres, but considering the fact that he was seeing 4th and 3rd line minutes for a little bit less than half of the season that total can rise. His late season rise is a big confidence booster, not only for him, but for Hartley, who will make sure he is 1st/2nd liner this season. I think 60 points is Backlund’s ceiling this year. He might get between 45-55.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    I have very high expectations for Backlund this year.

    Backlund is a confident player finally. You can see in his assertiveness (does not back down haha) how he is self motivated.

    I really think he needs a finisher to get full value – some of his dishes to Cammy (remember 8-1) were velvety.

    Backs plays 20m/game. Brodie 22m/game. Need a finisher for Backs and Gio to resume his offense with Brodie.

    CGY has to be able to generate offense and production with that kind of TOI – need goals.

    playing opposing lines to draws is not good enough now. Backlund has to take a step and be dangerous – have the other teams try and contain his production.

    Can he do that? We’ll find out.

  • Gaudreau may also be one of the rare players who can boost on-ice SH% to some degree. Guys who can find holes and distribute the puck through traffic in the o-zone tend to be able to do that.

    That’s the kind of pairing I’d be looking for as a GM or coach: possession players + o-zone producers.

    • Jeff Lebowski

      Yup. I think it’s all about pairings/duos. I believe Burke will demand a gritty guy to complete the lines tho.

      He stated he hates how CGY plays last year – I think he meant how non truculent they were. He wants some bark out there – his identity.

      So that’s why you won’t see, IMO, all the toughs on the 4th line.

      Why use Lance at centre? He hits, he forechecks like a demon. Unleash him on the wing, don’t tamp his aggressiveness with the defensive responsibilities of a centre – what a waste!

    • Skuehler

      Makes a lot of sense on paper and it would be exciting. But where’s the beef? Who do you put on the opposite wing to look out for Gaudreau? Or does he take care of his own business?

      Cause sending out a goon on the next shift or later in the game (or the next time the two teams play) totally changes the game. If the refs don’t call the game then someone needs to step up right away.

  • Byron Bader

    Gaudreau is one of the, if not the most exciting thing about the Flames this year. I also have a feeling he’ll be a good possession player as well! On another note, is anybody watching the Canada-Czech summer development game? Bennett and Klimchuk are both in the game, but the one that is standing out to me is McDavid. Constantly being double shifted and creating 1-2 scoring chances every shift. Bennett saw some time on a line with him and Fabbri. That just got me dreaming, imagine Bennett and McDavid for years to come…….. Too as the Flames won’t be that bad.

    • EugeneV

      Like everyone else I hope JG turns out to be amazing. But the expectations people are heaping on him are pretty lofty to say the least… Even for a normal sized player the NHL is a completely different league. Until someone proves it here for an entire season its pretty irrational to make such lofty assumptions. Remember when Sven was getting 2 ppg in the WHL and his HLNE was ‘off the charts’.

      I just looked at the Calder trophy winners from the last 20 years and I can’t see 1 single winner that wasn’t a top draft pick. Am I missing anyone? Has there EVER been a Calder winner in 3 decades who wasn’t an elite 1st round draft pick?

      Look at Justin Schultz in YEG. He was supposed to be the next Drew Doughty. He even destroyed the AHL during the lockout. He only played half the hear and still won the AHL D scoring race & rookie scoring race. And in the NHL he is too soft, too weak, muffin shot and a giveaway machine. Still a good player, but hardly the superstar the Coiler fans bragged up.

      I think we should all temper expectations until we see 40-50 games in the NHL.

      • supra steve

        “I just looked at the Calder trophy winners from the last 20 years and I can’t see 1 single winner that wasn’t a top draft pick. Am I missing anyone? Has there EVER been a Calder winner in 3 decades who wasn’t an elite 1st round draft pick?”

        Lots, especially goalies. Steve Mason, Andrew Raycroft, Nabokov, Gomez, Drury, Bure, Belfour, Makarov, Nieuwendyk. All won the Calder, most were not first round selections, and the few that were–were not top picks. Also, Fleury probably would have been a strong contender for the Calder, had he played the full season with the Flames.

        I don’t care if JG is in the running for the Calder, I just wish him a long and productive NHL career.

        • EugeneV

          Ahhh yes, Drury is a good example. I was asking, not saying I knew the answer…. Goalies don’t count. It’s just further proof goalies are voodoo. And most of them were closer to 25 years old as ‘rookies’. Makarov and Bure are hardly relevant examples. One was over 30 and the other was a generational superstar from Russia.

          But thanks for the examples.

          End of the day, I agree, I just hope he has a long productive career. I just see the lofty expectations everyone has and cringe. Until a player produces in the NHL for a long period of time I think it’s just crazy to assume much. Even if I assume away the small issue of his size (pun intended).

          You can wish it away all you want, but until he proves for 80 games he can play against Chara or dirty SOBs like Duncan Keith, he is just the next Nathan Gerbe.

          • supra steve

            I’ve always been curious as to why people use Gerbe as a negative comparable for Gaudreau. If anything, he’s a positive.

            He’s smaller, he wasn’t as good a player in college (he was good, but Gaudreau was better by a lot), and he’s missed I think seven total games over the last two years. He’s a full-time NHLer, he’s rarely injured, and he’s 5’5″.

          • Burnward

            Also, Gerbe’s game is based on his speed.

            Gaudreau slows it down and makes it come to him. Two completely different players.

            Gerbe = Smaller Raymond

            Gaudreau = Smaller Giroux

      • EugeneV

        This is what you are looking for.

        Gary Suter and Luc Robitaille won the Calder in 86 & 87.

        Both were drafted in 1984 in the 9th round!!!!

        As a Flames fan you should probably have known about Suter.

        Suter came out of the NCAA as a draft +3 like Gaudreau, but obviously onto a MUCH better team.

  • Parallex

    Yeah, Backs is gonna get the toughs again this year. Which is fine as he’s good at playing against them. Seriously Flames brass… extend him and Brodie now, not later, now.

    And since this has morphed into more Gaudreaumania if he starts the year with the Flames (It’s gonna be him or Baertschi and I’d rather Baertschi get the initial shot TBQH). I’d rather put him with Monahan and Colborne and have them play 3rd line PvP at Evs (with no zone sheltering… want them to work on moving the puck north and that’s easier to do if they don’t always start north).

  • Burnward

    Backs would have had a more offensive season had he been given the the 20 minutes of ice-time that he enjoyed Dec.-Apr. He didn’t deserve the treatment he got but I had a feeling it was coming from upstairs despite Hartley’s denials. Backs could still yet be a 50-60 point guy instead of a 30-40 point guy. He should be the #1C on this team and Monahan can slide in as the #2C with Stajan as #3C. In the 2011-12 season he would have had better numbers if not for two injuries.

  • Speaking of beef, highly speculated Flames potential draft pick Nick Ritchie managed to pick up 32 penalty minutes in a summer development camp exhibition game. I think that’s a record.

    I shouldn’t have to thank Treliving for not taking him, but thanks for not taking him.

  • EugeneV

    Backlund is not a point producer.

    Trash me all you want, but he is not a natural scorer, he has 246 GP in the NHL now, is nowhere near being a rookie so I don’t expect sudden progression in his scoring.
    To support my statement I will now use a fancy stat.

    NHLe

    Draft year ’06/07 I would not know how to work it out as he played for 5 teams, but the NHLe will certainly be low.

    Draft +1 ’07/08 same as above but did score 7pts at WJC, so did pretty well there

    Draft +2 ’08/09 Kelowna Rockets NHLe 23 (Janko 22)

    Draft +3 ’09/10 Abbotsford Heat NHLe 23

    Draft +4 ’10/11 Calgary Flames NHLe 28

    Draft +5 ’11/12 Calgary Flames NHLe 22

    Draft +6 ’12/13 Calgary Flames NHLe 41

    Draft +7 ’13/14 Calgary Flames NHLe 42

    I’m not saying he’s not a good player, just that he is not a scorer. He may become a Jarret Stoll, which wouldn’t be a bad thing anyway.

    • Does the fact that he is trending upwards mean nothing to you though? Not only that, but if we assume the team as a whole will be getting better over the next few years, it’s not that ridiculous to think his production will be getting better at the same time, to some extent. I wouldn’t write off his totals just yet…

      • EugeneV

        Yes, I CAN see that he has trended up over the last year and a bit.
        I suppose he COULD become one of those players who has a NHLe around 20 until he is 23 and then gets to the 40s and keeps rising from there? After all that happens ALL the time, right?
        What are the odds statistically?

    • EugeneV

      Agree and this is why despite the cries of FlameNation to tie up Backlund on a 7 year deal at $4.5 per, Flames management would be wise to see how (or if) he progresses this year to a point where he can legitimately compete for a #2 centre position. Based on what I have seen, I’m not convinced but I’ll get trashed for saying it. The downside is if he racks up 65 points (double his best year) but I seriously don’t see that happening.

  • EugeneV

    I don’t know why some of us can’t see that yes; Backlund is the #1 center on our team right now. (our terrible team) But that if our team is to ever become elite he will need to be #3 or 4 behind Monahan and Bennett.

    • The Last Big Bear

      I don’t think anyone, anywhere, has ever suggested that Backlund will and should continue being #1C ahead of Monahan and Bennett in their primes.

      You are arguing against literally not one single person in the entire world.

      • EugeneV

        http://flamesnation.ca/2014/7/23/pondering-extensions-for-brodie-backlund

        It is suggested on this link, and many others that we pay Backlund 4.5 per for 5+ years.

        I have looked through capgeek and don’t see ANY elite teams paying their 3rd line center more than 3M/yr.

        I see Backlund as a piece we trade in 18 months if Monahan, Bennett, Gaudreau and 2015 top 3 pick look like what we hope they are. Hopefully for a top 4 Dman.

        • Avalain

          Well, you have a point there. But that still sounds good for a 2nd line center and in 5 years Bennett will still be only 23. So even if you say he’s going to take over the 2nd spot at 22 that is only 1 extra year on Backlund.

          I think the thing is that we are still looking at a number of years before Backlund is going to be pushed down to 3rd.