Mikael Backlund needs a multiyear extension

HallandOates

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.

PayThatMan

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”.

  • nikkomsgb

    I am quite new to advanced stats and had the hardest time understanding their role, until I started paying attention to all the arguments about Mikael Backlund.

    Having seasons tickets we watch pretty much every game and the one thing you realize with him is that damn near every time he is on the ice the end result is the puck end up in the offensive zone. Furthermore he makes smart plays on the ice and there isn’t any panic in his game. At the same time you can clearly see that there is a lot of talent there that could yet turn into more scoring.

    At the end of the day his age coupled with his abilities mean he could be a mainstay on the flames third/shutdown line for many years. Furthermore if Pat is right on the number he could be retained for, his value should only increase in a league trending more and more towards analytics.

    • I really think $3.5 million as an AAV is in the neighbourhood of what Backlund would sign for. It’s a significant raise as to what he’s making now, and it’s probably in the ballpark of what a guy like him makes in the league.

  • scross16

    I think a 3 year deal in the 3.5mil AAV range would be prefect for Backlund and the Flames. Gives him a chance to prove he can stay healthy and still get one more pay day, where the Flames get a very good player on a reasonable deal. I think the drop from Backlund to players like Stajan, Granland, Arnold and some of the future options is greater then people think so I agree the risk to dealing him and hoping one of those guys steps up isn’t worth it. Lock him up, and if I’m wrong and someone like a Granland, Arnold or Jankowski takes his spot you trade him very easily or just let the 3rd year run out. I’d be open to a 4 year deal but I think you are going to need to spend closer to 4million per and not sure that is as good an idea.

  • Craig

    I think Backlund will play a very important role for this team, as a two way secondary scorer. With two Studs in Monahan and Bennett Backlund can provide two things for this team in the future.

    1. A power line to counter the other teams top line. Think Bouma- Backlund – Jones. That line was built to drive play and cause havoc with a forecheck.

    2. Kill the oppositions bottom rotation. I think we’ve seen Hartley go more for a top line vs. top line approach recently where the Monahan line has taken on the other teams top line. In this case Backlund is able to destroy third line competition and create secondary scoring.

    Wherever he is placed in the future he has a lot of value for this team.

  • mattyc

    2014-2015 regular season 5v5 statistics:

    Player...	Gp	G60	A60	FF60	FA60
    
    Backlund	52	0.51	1.19	37.0	40.7
    Granlund	48	0.76	0.97	34.3	44.1
    Monahan..	81	0.76	0.91	37.8	45.0
    
  • mattyc

    Bang-on with every point. You watch Backlund and two things happen virtually every time he’s on the ice:

    1) he gets the pucks out of his own end;

    2) he gets the puck into the offensive end.

    Placed between two elite wingers Backlund could do some major damage.

    • mattyc

      …..and he has not scored a goal since hell froze over. Yes I get it he provides strong 2 way play and is usually up against the opposition top forwards….he is also a 3 rd line centre and is expected to provide secondary scoring which he as not!

      • mattyc

        Note that I said “elite” wingers, which is open to interpretation, I guess.

        My point is that he’d more than just a shutdown guy. Again, basically every time he’s on the ice he’s moving the puck out of his end, through the middle and into the offensive zone. That’s pretty much invaluable.

        Backlund himself has very so-so hands in terms of generating points. If he had wingers with enough skill to capitalize on what he does do well (paragraph above), that’s what I mean by damage. Because that’s the toughest part of the game.

    • MontanaMan

      The point is, they’re never going to put Backlund between elite wingers because he’s not an elite centre. You put your elite wingers with Monahan and Bennett and leave the checking line to Backlund and others.

  • beloch

    Backlund missed 30 games this season. In the 52 games he played, he was on a 40ish point pace, which would make him the Flames top point generating forward outside of the Monahan line. He did that while being deployed in a shut-down role with other shut-down players.

    Backlund is a great player when he’s healthy. My main concern with him is that he gets hurt fairly often and has yet to play a full season. Since he became a full-time NHL’er in 2010-2011, Backlund has missed 102 games and played 274 games. That means he’s been available for just 73% of the games he could have played in.

    A healthy Backlund would be the Flames’ go-to shut-down center. That’s a bottom six role, but an important one. If he were a dependable player $3.5M would not be an overpay for that role. However, because he’s available to play less than three quarters of the time, the Flames should probably shoot for a cap-hit of around $2.5M/season.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    I would take Brian Boyle over Backlund as my 3C any day.

    Big. Wins face offs.

    I’m sure his advanced stats are not as nice as Backlumd though….

    WW

    • Burnward

      I don’t disagree. Backs is pretty darn effective though.

      Just wish he was better at maintaining possession along with driving it. His Corsi stats have always struck me as Eakins Corsi wins…too many shots from god knows where, not enough in the tough areas.

      • Burnward

        I think a 4 year deal at 3.5per gives Backlund enough security & a decent paycheque. I just don’t see moving Backlund for at least the next 2 years, if we move him at all. It may take Bennett 2 years to grow into that top 2 Centre position & we will need to transition him back & forth from RW to Centre during that period. Backlund allows us to do that so as much as I would love to parlay Backs into a big strong 2nd pairing brute we desperately need, it’s just too soon. We need at least 1 year to really see if Shore or Arnold can get to where Backlund is. I would like to see if Granlund &/or Reinhart or Agostino & one of our ends can get us a big 2nd pairing dman at this draft. Then use our 1st to get us a blue-chipper dman to develop over the next 2-3 years.