One of the main reasons why fans of the Calgary Flames are so excited about this summer’s signing of Michael Frolik is because of his versatility. Not only can Frolik play both wings, he can also be used in a few different ways. As such, there’s a very strong possibility we’ll see him paired extensively with another of Calgary’s most versatile forwards: Mikael Backlund.
I know, I know…what a surprise! Steinberg writing about Backlund. Real original FlamesNation. But bear with me, because I promise this won’t turn too mushy. Okay, well, it might, but read the damn article anyway. The fact is, Frolik and Backlund are likely Calgary’s best two way forwards.
Because of that, and because of the way they’ve been utilized the last few years, it would make a lot of sense to use them together. In fact, it’s tough for me to come up with reasons why Bob Hartley won’t go down this road, at least to start the season.
Frolik and Backlund have both established themselves as solid, effective players. Flames fans are very well aware of Backlund’s role on this team the last number of years. He’s been one of their most consistent and strongest possession forwards for years now. Well, the same is true for Frolik, specifically during his team in Winnipeg.
We’ll focus on the last two years, mostly because that’s when Frolik has come into his own. In both years with the Jets, Frolik gave the Jets solid, effective minutes that set him up for a nice pay day on July 1st. Much like Backlund has been doing for years with Calgary, Frolik took on some of the toughest opposition on the team and still ended up spending most of his time in the offensive zone. My fancy table below gives you a look at the last two years for both players.
If you’ll notice, there are no red, squiggly lines, as I’m slowly learning how to do cool things. You’ll also notice that both players were among their team’s better possession forwards. Both Frolik and Backlund saw top six minutes, both faced some of the most difficult competition on their respective teams, and both helped their teams win.
The only glaring difference between the two would be their zone start totals. Last year, for instance, Backlund started just 37.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone while Frolik was up over 50%. That happened for a couple different reasons. First, Winnipeg was a better all around possession team than Calgary was. Also, Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice distributed his forwards more evenly than Hartley did with the Flames.
Backlund’s difficult utilization circumstances certainly played a part in his Corsi ranking. Ranking seventh on the team is low for him, as he was routinely top three before that. This past year, though, Backlund graduated to playing even tougher opposition while still getting hammered with defensive starts. He was still extremely effective, though.
The fact is, Frolik and Backlund are a really good fit. On the roster right now, there isn’t a better two way winger than Frolik. The same is true about Backlund down the middle, specifically because Sean Monahan is probably better suited to centre Calgary’s top scoring line. Putting Frolik and Backlund together just makes sense, and if history tells us anything, they’ll be an absolute handful to deal with.
Even more exciting is the potential for this being a long term pairing. With new contracts in hand, these two should play for the Flames together for the next three years at least. Frolik is 27 years old while Backlund is 26, so age wise they’re in extremely similar ballparks. Theoretically, both will be entering their most effective years at roughly the same time.
More and more, NHL teams are leaning towards pairings among forwards as opposed to lines. If you’ve got a good centre/wing pairing, you can put any number of players on the other side and be successful. Remember, Mark Recchi rode shotgun with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in 2011. In this circumstance, there are lots of options to play with Backlund and Frolik? I could see Lance Bouma, Sam Bennett, David Jones, and Paul Byron all fitting just fine with those two. The point is, the Flames have the potential for a really, really strong pair up front. Let’s see if that potential turns into what it could.