Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost: I am not saying the Calgary Flames will trade Mikael Backlund. I have no inside information. I am not a sooth-sayer. And I’m not necessarily right.
I am, however, somebody who has spent an inordinate amount of time in the Saddledome this season and watching this team.
So here’s why I think the Calgary Flames might trade Mikael Backlund prior to the trade deadline.
I’ve mentioned this in passing before, so let’s go into a bit more detail.
The Calgary Flames are a club with some sudden forward depth and a bit of a chasm elsewhere in the roster. Particularly when you look at the center ranks, suddenly there’s some depth, and perhaps some riches if Sam Bennett turns out to be something of note.
Up the middle, here’s what the Calgary Flames have in the organization:
- Sean Monahan
- Mikael Backlund
- Joe Colborne
- Markus Granlund
- Matt Stajan
- Josh Jooris
- Max Reinhart
- Drew Shore
- Sam Bennett
- Bill Arnold
- Mark Jankowski
- Matthew Deblouw
- (Lance Bouma and Paul Byron can play center in a pinch, but aren’t primarily centers.)
Outside of Jankowski and Deblouw, these guys are all at least bubble NHLers.
Now, on the blueline, Calgary is thin. They have three top-flight defenders in Mark Giordano, Kris Russell and T.J. Brodie. And they’re surrounding that trio with what they have remaining, which right now is Raphael Diaz, Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland. All are functional. But they’re all basically what they are at this point.
Because of the basic functionality of the three secondary blueliners, Calgary (a) relies a ton on Brodie and Giordano and (b) really hamstrings themselves by having Russell play with Wideman. Granted, Russell with Wideman is better than Russell with Engelland (which was awful), but Russell is a player like Wideman who needs to be with somebody as good as him to be effective. With Wideman, he cheats a bit to cover his own zone because Wideman pinches a lot and isn’t quite mobile enough to make it back to the zone all the time. (The same tendencies exist with Giordano and Brodie, but each guy is extremely mobile and able to race back most of the time.)
That brings us to Mikael Backlund. As Elliotte Friedman has detailed on the Sportsnet site, a lot of teams are calling about Sean Monahan or Sam Bennett, as occurred with Winnipeg and Buffalo when Calgary was looking into Evander Kane and Tyler Myers. They are likely chuckled at good-naturedly by Brad Treliving, who then asks them about other things. But let’s say you’re Calgary and a team says, “You give us a good center, we’ll give you somebody to play with Russell.” (Hopefully they’re right-handed.)
You’re not moving Bennett or Monahan. It’s unlikely that you can trade Stajan’s long-term deal, and you probably want a veteran center to mentor Bennett for a bit. But what about Backlund? He’s due for a raise. He’s a strong possession player. He’s got value. And if you want to use some center depth to fix the team’s lack of defensive depth, the best bet to do so is by swapping out Mikael Backlund.