Anyone familiar with my work on this delightful website, or anyone who has the pain tolerance to listen to me on the radio will be familiar with how much I like Mikael Backlund. Is it creepy that I thought about superimposing his face on Hall and mine on Oates? Yeah, probably, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s an extremely important member of the Calgary Flames. I think a number of other people are catching onto that in the 2015 postseason, so it’s time to revisit his future with the team. Backlund is a restricted free agent come July 1st, and it’s more clear than ever that a multiyear extension is the way to go if you’re the Flames.
I’ve decided to write this article by debunking some myths. I’ve heard my fair share of reasons why Backlund isn’t this or won’t be that, but the fact is, he’s a really good hockey player. If you don’t think he should be locked up for a longer term, I’m here to combat your line of thinking with facts. Let’s see if your objections fall into any of the following categories.
He isn’t an effective player
Well that’s just silly. In fact, once again this season, Backlund proved to be one of Calgary’s most effective forwards. Points wise, his numbers were down, but that’s because an injury early in the season kept him out of action for an extended period of time. In reality, though, Backlund was actually on pace for the best points total of his career. but that’s somewhat immaterial for this part of the conversation. Backlund’s value has never been measured in just goals and assists.
For a fifth straight season, Backlund was one of Calgary’s best possession forwards. This year, he ended up as their fifth best forward in terms of raw Corsi, but with a 38.5% offensive zone start, was hammered with defensive responsibility all year long. Prior to this year, he had been Calgary’s best possession forward the last two seasons and in the team’s top five in every season he’s been in the league. Backlund is the type of player you win with. He’s effective in all situations, he’s smart, and he helps get the puck to the right end of the ice and keep it there.
The Flames are too deep down the middle
First off, it’s tough to be too deep down the middle in this day and age. Having centre ice depth is a problem the majority of NHL teams would love to have. But, while the position has taken a huge step forward in recent years for the Flames, it’s not as if it’s deep enough to push Backlund out.
Sam Bennett has been nothing but impressive in his short time with Calgary, but he’s playing the wing right now. There’s a good chance he playing down the middle next year, but we don’t know how effective he’s going to be. Sean Monahan had the benefit of being protected in year one, and having Backlund around will allow Head Coach Bob Hartley to shelter Bennett’s minutes too.
Let’s also not forget Joe Colborne is playing the wing and Matt Stajan is is 31 years old. There are more capable bodies at centre than there have been in a long time for the Flames, but that doesn’t mean there’s no spot for Backlund. In fact, with the way the position is trending, I think there’s a natural spot for him for a number of years to come.
He’ll take a spot away from someone else
Who? It’s not as if Backlund is ever going to deprive Monahan or Bennett of playing time. Those two are both potential franchise players and have ceilings higher than Backlund’s. If anything, Backlund will only serve to help both of them as referenced above. So who else would Backlund be keeping out of the lineup? Certainly not anyone that can do the job more effective than him.
Markus Granlund isn’t a legit NHLer yet and his early returns aren’t anywhere near as impressive as Backlund’s were. Granlund drowns at five-on-five and has a long, long way to go in the faceoff dot. Colborne doesn’t look like a longterm fit down the middle. Josh Jooris can very easily play the wing and might be more effective there. Bill Arnold? Maybe in a few years. Keeping Backlund around helps your team right now, and isn’t depriving anyone of a spot.
The contract will be too expensive
Mmmm no, that’s just not true. Because Backlund’s counting numbers have never been overwhelming, he’s never going to get that huge payday. While advanced metrics are now being tracked by the NHL, I’m not sure what their value will be in contract negotiations. Backlund will have some leverage, but not a ton, so will probably end up being a cap friendly number at the end of the day. Would four years at, like, $14 million overall be out of the question? That’s $3.5 million per, which seems reasonable knowing his point totals and his contract this year (AAV of $1.5 million). A deal like that would be great value for Calgary.
An extension will hurt flexibility
On the contrary. Let’s say, for sake of argument, that Granlund takes a few large steps forward next season and shows the ability to impact the team the same way Backlund has. Well, in that case, it’s extremely likely that whatever extension Backlund signs will also be highly trade-able. Again, he’s not breaking the bank here, and as such, any contract he signs will be palatable for another team if a younger player makes him expendable. If that doesn’t happen, you can be happy as a team that you have an affordable, effective player in the fold.
I just don’t see any reason not to lock Backlund up to a long term deal this summer. He’s a restricted free agent, so you still control his rights. He’s been extremely good for you all season long, and has opened a ton of eyes during the postseason. And he’s going to be affordable, which is something this team will need with guys like Monahan and Gaudreau due extensions midway through the coming season. As Deion Sanders would say “PAY THAT MAN”.