As soon as Michael Frolik was signed in free agency, there was a popular sentiment within our circle: the Flames just acquired the perfect winger for Mikael Backlund. Yes, he addressed other issues – no depth on the right side, poor possession – but it feels like he was made to play with Backlund.
Treliving may have even alluded to it after signing him. He called the NHL a “league of pairs”, and while no specific names were mentioned, from the way he described Frolik’s game – “one of those unheralded guys who does a lot of heavy lifting and doesn’t get the accolades” – it sounded exactly like Backlund.
We’ve seen this particularly recently, as Backlund and Frolik have set one another up for shorthanded goals. Frolik has had a hand in Backlund’s last four points, while Backlund has been involved in four of Frolik’s last seven in the same time frame.
It goes beyond that, though. For as long as they’ve been linemates, Backlund and Frolik have proved just how good they’ve been together.
Individual corsi and line combinations
Points production is one thing (and over fully healthy seasons, right now, Backlund is on pace for 45 points, and Frolik, 44 – so they’re clearly achieving stuff there), but if we go by Treliving’s above words, it’s not everything. Frolik’s game lends himself to not get accolades, and that’s pretty much been the story of Backlund’s entire career in Calgary.
Of all Flames regulars – at least half the season played – Backlund (51.53% 5v5 CF) and Frolik (50.61% 5v5 CF) are the Flames’ top corsi players. Only Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are positive possession guys (above 50% 5v5 CF) as well, though Sam Bennett, at 49.46% 5v5 CF, is awfully close.
So they lead the Flames in possession. And using Corsica.Hockey, we can look at just who the most successful forward combinations have been for the Flames this season, as sorted by 5v5 CF% (minimum 50 minutes played together):
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing||5v5 TOI||5v5 CF%||5v5 GF60||5v5 GA60|
Sense a bit of a pattern here? These are the only six combinations to have at least a 50% 5v5 CF for the Flames. Gaudreau and Monahan make up two of the combinations, no matter who the right winger; Backlund and Frolik make up three, with Backlund on his own contributing to the final trio.
But what about when it comes to actually scoring? The Flames saw overall success on both ends of the ice with the Hudreaunahan trio, with the line scoring more goals than goals were going against them. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Micheal Ferland swapped in for Jiri Hudler, though; while they’re posting great corsi stats, poor Ferland, for whatever reason, has been completely unable to show up on the scoresheet, even though he’s getting plenty of chances.
If Backlund is involved, though, then the Flames’ goals for are higher than their goals against, in every single case. Though the third and sixth combinations – the ones in which Backlund is without Frolik, and the one wherein Mason Raymond is present – have much less ice time go off of, so we should eye their per 60 stats with a bit of caution. Keeping Raymond up probably wasn’t going to give the Flames immense production, even if that line has the highest 5v5 GF60 on this list.
Say what you will for Backlund’s offensive flubs or inability to become a top scorer: when he’s on the ice, the Flames aren’t just out-possessing their opponent, they’re outscoring them, too. Frolik being along for the ride the majority of the time certainly isn’t hurting things, either.
The above is focused on individual and line combination corsi. Let’s take a look at Backlund and Frolik when they’re together, or separated – and just how that compares to their teammates.
Via Corsica, we have WOWY charts for both players. They take the top 10 players they’ve spent the most 5v5 ice time alongside. The chart is ordered alphabetically by first name.
Everybody is worse when separated from Backlund. Everybody. Giordano and Brodie are pretty close to Backlund’s values when they’re apart, but fact of the matter is, Backlund doesn’t really suffer when he’s separated from any particular player – but they all suffer when separated from him.
Backlund and Giordano offer a massive boost to one another when partnered together, though. Hamilton appears to boost his numbers as well, as does Ferland – but they’ve spent so little time relatively actually together, it doesn’t look like a strong indication of anything just yet. Bennett slightly boosts Backlund as well.
The players who suffer the least when they’re separated from Backlund shouldn’t come as a surprise: Brodie, Giordano, and Frolik, the only other 5v5 positive possession players on the Flames. They’re still a little worse away from him, but his absence doesn’t impact them as much as it impacts others; they’re good in their own right.
Meanwhile, it looks like Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland, and Kris Russell really drag Backlund’s numbers down, Wideman and Russell – former heavily relied upon top four pairing of the Flames – in particular.
Frolik is similar to Backlund in that everyone is worse away from him than with him, with one key exception: Backlund himself. (Though of course, once again, Giordano and Brodie are pretty close to Frolik anyway, and the players benefit one another when sharing the same ice.)
Frolik appears to be stronger when working alongside Hamilton, Bennett, and Colborne as well; he and Bennett in particular really give each other a strong boost. Interestingly, Frolik and Gaudreau may not be a fit – but both have spent so little relative time together, it may not be a feasible long-term conclusion to make.
And once again like Backlund, there are three key players that really dragged Frolik into the depths: Wideman, Engelland, and Russell.
What to make of all this? It’s a good thing the Flames capitalized on Russell at the trade deadline, for one thing; and when Wideman and Engelland are gone from the team, the blueline should be better off, assuming they aren’t replaced with anyone worse. Brodie, Giordano, and Hamilton all look to be far better.
Bennett was the best linemate Backlund and Frolik had, which makes sense: he was a fourth overall pick and projects to have a very good career in the NHL, after all.
But ultimately – for as well as Backlund and Frolik work together – it looks like Backlund remains king of the line, corsi-wise. He’s the Flames’ strongest possession player, and it shows: it’s him centring the most positive corsi lines, and it’s him the one player Frolik is worse off without.
This season has been a major coming out party for Backlund, though, as he’s looking to set career highs across the board. Is it a coincidence it came when Frolik joined the Flames?