2014-15 By The Numbers: #11 Mikael Backlund

It’s no secret that we’re fans of Mikael Backlund around these parts. He’s been a darling of the analytics community basically since he established himself as a full-time NHLer a few seasons ago.

If there’s one criticism of Backlund, it may be that he can’t stay healthy. He’s been a pending restricted free agent almost perpetually over the past few seasons – he’s up for another contract this summer – and the big argument against giving him a long-term, moderate-money contract has always seemingly been his body of work. It’s not a bad body of work, it’s just smaller than it should be given his age.

This season, he was hampered by an abdominal injury in training camp and the early season, was shut down for a couple months, then came back and was effective in his usual tough-minutes role. But he really, really needs a full, injury-free season under his belt.

Here is everyone that played 100+ even-strength minutes with Backlund in 2014-15’s regular season.

Player Together Apart Diff.
Bouma 45.2% 39.1% +6.1%
Brodie 45.8% 45.2% +0.6%
Jones 45.5% 43.0% +2.5%
Russell 41.0% 43.4% -2.4%
Wideman 42.4% 43.0% -0.6%
Engelland 41.7% 40.2% +1.5%
Giordano 53.9% 47.3% +6.6%
Colborne 46.3% 41.8% +4.5%
Raymond 46.7% 42.6% +4.1%
Gaudreau 47.7% 46.4% +1.3%

We’ve previously established that Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman were playing above their heads for a lot this season and, as a result, everyone they played with had depressed possession numbers. But beyond them, everybody is a fair bit better with Mikael Backlund than away from him. Even guys like T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano, who play tough minutes. Heck, even Deryk Engelland, who isn’t a possession giant himself.

That’s pretty darn impressive, particularly considering these regular season numbers include that lengthy stretch in October where Backlund struggled through that abdominal injury before the team shut him down for awhile.

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He was obviously struggling early-on, and when he came back, he was more at his “usual” level.

Here’s a look at Backlund’s deployment by Bob Hartley:

forwards

Of all the team’s forwards, Backlund had among (a) the toughest zone-starts, (b) the toughest competition and (c) the best relative possession numbers. And his deployment with a rotating cabal of wingers in the tough minutes allowed for Matt Stajan to anchor the fourth line and keep them from slipping too far into the abyss, and for Hartley to use Monahan, Gaudreau and Hudler as often as he could in the offensive zone.

Mikael Backlund is a pending restricted free agent. He’s a tremendously useful player, and despite playing a large chunk of the season with a nagging injury and basically not getting a full training camp, he posted good possession numbers and made his team better. His offensive totals aren’t any great shakes – 27 points in 52 games in the regular season, 2 points in 11 games in the playoffs – and he’s basically a 40-point player at the NHL level. But he’s a very effective defensive player with some offensive talent. He could work on his face-offs a bit – he’s been wobbling between 47-48% for the past few years – but he’s still effective and valuable on this club.

Right now, Backlund’s spot on this team seems safe. He’s one of their better face-off players, and arguably their best 200-foot center. But once Sam Bennett gets established up the middle, it may become a numbers game, and someone might either need to learn a new position or move to a new city.

2014-15 BY THE NUMBERS

  • RKD

    But he really, really needs a full, injury-free season under his belt. Yup, one way or another something stops him from playing a full 82 games. He’s valuable to this team, don’t why there is so much hate towards him. Centers don’t appear out of thin air, especially defensive ones. He’s got to be here until Bennett is flying on his own.

  • Greg

    If injuries and poor point totals keep deflating his contract value, I hope he sticks here indefinitely. He’s the exact 3rd line Center any contending team needs, and the type a lot of teams overspend to get for a playoff run every deadline, so best to just keep signing him to these undervalued contracts.

  • Greg

    The difference between a 0.5 PPG season and 0.75 PPG season from Backlund is truly confidence. The guy is a beast at getting the puck out of our end but sometimes lacks that same tenacity in the offensive zone. He had some flashes of it at the end of the 2014 season, but until he shows that confidence in the offensive zone, he’ll be an excellent 3rd line possession driving, depth scoring center and not a 2nd line one. Which is completely fine, championship teams win with 3 complete scoring lines, not just a top 6 and bottom 6. Need to extend Backlund and Gio IMMEDIATELY.

  • Byron Bader

    He makes everybody better. That’s for sure. But what in the world is going on with Gio? When I was doing some earlier work looking at when the three of Backlund, Gio and Brodie were on the ice together and their possession stats, any combo when Backlund and Gio were together was off the charts. There could be a really interesting dynamic between those two that’s going unnoticed. Do they feed off each other? Pass and work off of plays with each other more so than other players on the ice?

    At the very least, those two should play on one of the PP units together all the time. Instead of having the puck 85% of the time on the PP they would probably have it 95%.