Mikael Backlund, and other forwards with similar cap hits

Mikael Backlund’s new contract, worth an annual average value of $3.575 million, makes him the third-highest paid forward on the Flames.

Let that sink in for a moment. That’s a relatively inexpensive deal, and yet, he’s become one of the top-paid Flames forwards. Barring a free agency signing, nobody’s going to unseat him either; not until next season when Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau will need to be re-signed.

The only forwards who cost more than him right now are Jiri Hudler and David Jones, both with cap hits of $4 million. Hudler is incredibly valuable and will be getting a raise soon enough, while Backlund is definitely the better player than Jones.

He’s already got value compared to his teammates. How valuable is he compared to forwards on other teams?

The $3.5 – $3.75 million range

Thanks to the salary cap, you can’t really throw money around. If you’re a forward getting at least $3.5 million, that means you’re doing something right. You’re not necessarily a star player, but you’re a top six guy – either on the fringes of it, or just young enough to have not earned your big pay day yet – and you’re not only useful to your team, but you’d be pretty useful anywhere in the league.

With Backlund now included, there are 12 forwards who fall in this range, all of whom fit those qualities for the most part. Here’s how they all performed over the 2014-15 season (age determined by how old they were most of this past season, not necessarily their current age):

Player Cap Hit Age Goals Assists Points Points Per Game
Kyle Turris $3.5 million 25 24 40 64 .78
Jaromir Jagr $3.5 million 42 17 30 47 .61
Alex Tanguay $3.5 million 35 22 33 55 .69
Lars Eller $3.5 million 25 15 12 27 .35
David Desharnais $3.5 million 28 14 34 48 .59
Cam Atkinson $3.5 million 25 22 18 40 .51
Mikael Backlund $3.575 million 25 10 17 27 .52
Matt Read $3.625 million 28 8 22 30 .38
Troy Brouwer $3.667 million 29 21 22 43 .52
Patrik Berglund $3.7 million 26 12 15 27 .35
Brendan Gallagher $3.75 million 22 24 23 47 .57
Pascal Dupuis $3.75 million 35 6 5 11 .69

A handful of fun facts:

  • Turris maybe could have been a Flame. When the Coyotes were forced to trade him, they were asking for a first round pick; the Flames ended up saving theirs to later draft Mark Jankowski.
  • Tanguay’s contract actually comes courtesy of the Flames. He has just one year left the five-year deal he signed to stay in Calgary long-term, which didn’t really end up being a thing (at least he got to reunite with Iggy!).
  • Berglund and Backlund are both from Vasteras. Both played there together in junior, and reunited during the lockout in 2012.
  • A blood clot saw Dupuis only able to play 16 games this past season. That said, he does get a bit of an advantage by playing on Sidney Crosby’s wing, so…

Anyway. With a handful of exceptions, most of the guys on this list are in their mid-late 20s, so Backlund’s falling right in line with expectations where he should be paid at this point in time. He wasn’t a big offensive contributor – 10th in goals scored, ninth in assists, and in a three-way tie with Eller and Berglund for total points – but things do start looking better when you take into account his points per game.

Since the lockout and an excellent half-season in Sweden, Backlund has been hovering at just over half a point per game. He’d probably score more, were it not for injuries limiting his seasons. He’s tied with Brouwer for seventh in players on this list in points per game.

When it comes to the basic stats, Backlund falls towards the bottom half of the pack. 

There’s more to hockey than just putting the puck in the net, though.

Context

Via War on Ice, here’s a quick look at just how all 12 of these players were used throughout this past season:

3575context

Gallagher, Jagr, and Berglund are the biggest standouts when it comes to bringing the puck up the ice. Their teams fared much better with them on the ice than off it. Desharnais is right behind them, and then, coming in at fifth is Backlund. Read, Eller, Brouwer, and Tanguay’s teams all did better when they were off the ice compared to on.

Even though Backlund played the second fewest games this past season out of this group, though, he was on the ice the fourth most often when actually playing. Only Turris, Jagr, and Desharnais received more ice time on average per game than he did.

Now, consider Backlund’s position on the chart: the bottom left corner. What this means is he received more defensive zone starts than most of the other players in this group, and the competition he played against didn’t have as many corsi attempts for as the rest.

Touching on that second point: the difference is only about two points. Berglund and Jagr performed best in this area, while Read and Tanguay were hurt by who they played against. Backlund, down at the bottom with Dupuis – the other injured party of the season – shows he didn’t play against as high quality an opponent, but not by a lot.

The zone starts, however, paint a clearer picture, and show Backlund’s value. Turris and Tanguay are both just about on the edge for having an even zone start differential; the four who truly had negative zone starts were Berglund, Backlund, Read, and Eller.

Read and Eller fared poorly; Berglund did rather well; and Backlund falls in between: but as a player performing better than most. Gallagher may have had the highest relative corsi of this group, but he benefited from the second highest zone starts as well. Backlund is a rare blue circle buried in the trenches, which nobody else in this group could really match. 

Putting it all together

Backlund, Read, and Eller were at the biggest disadvantages. When you start more often in the defensive zone, it’s harder to put up points, let alone ensure the puck is moving up the ice.

Backlund not only was a greater asset to his team when starting in the defensive zone compared to the other two, but he scored about the same amount as they did, despite playing significantly fewer games. This is even the same case when compared to Berglund as well, who, while playing against better competition and putting up better possession stats, couldn’t use that advantage to put the puck in the net more.

All six players with a higher points per game ratio than Backlund received greater zone starts than he did, with only Tanguay and Turris not in sheltered positions. Brouwer, who scored at the same rate as Backlund, not only had the benefit of more offensive zone starts, but the play went against him more than for him all the while.

Backlund isn’t necessarily a major standout in this group. He’s in the bottom half in all points-related categories, but the upper half when it comes to possession. He had particularly brutal zone starts, against not quite as difficult competition, and performed better against not just players in similar positions, but those who had better conditions to work with as well.

He’s a good defensive forward who can score, and he fits right into this pay range. (And that was just over this past season. If you include his 2013-14 stats, in which he had slightly better zone starts, but played against top competition and was the king of corsi rel, it’s not even close to fair.)

  • SmellOfVictory

    It’s also worth noting that Backlund plays on the Flames, a bottom 5 possession team, while the majority of the other guys on the chart played with significantly better possession players (aside from the times that Backlund was backed by Brodano).

  • SmellOfVictory

    I’m wondering if you’re reading the last chart wrong? Isn’t the lower left segment (where Backlund is) a combination of:

    a. High %Defensive Zone Starts, and
    b. Corsi For/60 of Competition-against the player? Or is it against all players? In other words if the Corsi For/60 is low that means that relatively speaking Backlund has the BEST Corsi For/60 against HIS opposition than any of the others?

    Just wondering what is actually being measured here.

    • SmellOfVictory

      The Y axis is the average Corsi For / 60 minutes for players Backlund played against. Not the Corsi they managed while playing against Backlund; their Corsi for the season.

      Basically it’s measuring how many events are typically generated by players he plays against. So he had one of the lower numbers on the list, which means, ostensibly, he played against, on average, slightly less difficult opponents.

      Berglund is darned impressive in that graph. Might this have been his best season to date?

  • Ari Yanover

    Throw me in as someone in favour of picking up Berglund (for the right price). He and Backlund could form part of a pretty good third line. The shutdown Swedes.

    • Ari Yanover

      St Louis seem really set on changing their culture after so many first round losses. Thing is they have so many good players that could be acquired for way more reasonable cost. BT should be flying out to St Lu & get locked in a board room with them to hammer out some deals. Backes & Berglund would look pretty sweet in Calgary. Hudler, some youth & some picks going back may not be a bad fit.

  • Ari Yanover

    The only guarantees in life:

    1. Death
    2. Taxes
    3. Arii trashing Bollig and Engelland endlessly at every opportunity while praising Backlund and Byron as hockey Demi-gods

    Items 1 & 2 above have become less painful of late…