Just how good are Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik together?

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
Gaudreau Monahan Ferland 128.52 53.39% 1.87 2.80
Colborne Backlund Frolik 105.35 53.27% 2.85 1.71
Colborne Backlund Ferland 52.63 51.32% 3.42 1.14
Bennett Backlund Frolik 259.87 51.31% 2.54 2.08
Gaudreau Monahan Hudler 410.02 51.25% 3.07 2.63
Raymond Backlund Frolik 58.38 50.36% 4.11 3.08

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.

WOWY

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.

mikael backlund wowy ch

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.

michael frolik wowy ch

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?

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Glad to see Buckland is finally putting up some points.
    I hope it continues for the rest of the year and then we trade him for a top 6 forward at the draft.

    Maybe a Buckland trade for Drouin? We can dream…

    WW

  • Stu Cazz

    Not sure where Backlund was in October/November when the team needed the wins and the games really counted?? This is a typical pattern for him and appears to be a no pressure performer….perhaps it’s time to move him….

    • DoubleDIon

      Backlund was just fine. Goaltending and a lack of production from Monahan and Hudler was killing us. That and our best player wasn’t in the lineup.

      Trade Backlund and you’ll quickly see Monahan’s production drop. You can’t trade Backlund until Bennett comes more into his own. He’s still our best all-around center.

    • FireScorpion

      Exactly. The guy is not a pressure player and never has been. I am with the school of thought he has to be dealt before disappearing again for 40 games. I don’t give 2 rips about wins in the last 30 games of the season if the team has no realistic shot of making the playoffs.

      I do care about winning games when the season is in the balance however.

      To Double Dion, Backlund wasn’t just fine in the first 40 games. I suppose if all you read was FN articles you would think that but he sure wasn’t as his point totals show. 5 goals in 40 games? Cmon man.. His direct contribution to lack of secondary scoring on this team as well as goaltending sunk this season. Blaming Monahan?? For shame, kid has been scoring all season long..you don’t watch this team at all do you? To say Monahan’s lack of scoring hurt the team when Backlund couldn’t even score 6 goals in the first 40

  • BlueMoonNigel

    It might just be a sign of the times. Remember in the second half of last season when Gaudreau, Hudler and Monahan might very well have been the best line in hockey and how gadawful they were for the first half of this season?

    M and M are going to have to show the same chemistry next season right from the get-go. Plus, they have to find a third for that line to make it truly special.

    No doubt Backlund will be back next season because of this season’s play and he is affordable on a cost-conscious team, so very likely he and Frolik will get a chance to do it again next season.

  • Hubcap1

    My taken the Flames is that Backlund, Frolik, Brodie, Giordano, Hamilton, Ferland, Gaudreau, and Bennett are good 5v5 positive shot providers (of course given the right line mates). Monahan, not so much, but a good player and a pure goal scorer. Also Colborne is’t nearly as bad as some people think, at least not all the time.

    These are the players I’d like to see the Flames go forward for the next couple of seasons sans maybe Colborne.

    Engelland, Wideman and Russell when he was here are hurting the Flames. And to be honest Hartley hasn’t done enough to hide or shelter the negatives that these and a couple others bring.

    On Harley’s side some of the players that get praised are very young and in experienced. So earring on the side of caution with their use can be see as prudent. However next year I’d like to see a line up, forced on the team if necessary, that demands the increased use of the likes of Hamilton, Bennett, and Ferland.

  • KACaribou

    Colborne, Backlund, Ferland 52.63 – 51.32% – 3.42GF60 – 1.14GA60

    So this is easily our best line?

    BTW: I vote against any suggestion we ever get rid of Mikael Backlund. Even with Bennett’s assent to 1c or 2c, Backs is the best 3c in the NHL in my opinion.

  • Brodano12

    Chicago just signed Kruger, their 4th line centre, to a 3 year deal worth 3.1 million – about half a million less than Backlund’s deal. He has a career high if 28 points. Why would they pay that much for him?

    Because they know that you need a shutdown centre in your bottom 6 to win in the playoffs. Backlund is as good as Kruger defensively, and scores at twice the rate. He is going to be essential to our future cup runs. We have amazing depth at centre, you don’t just trade that away unless you are sure you have a replacement (which we do not have yet – Janko/Arnold/Grant are still a few years away and there’s no guarantee they’ll be as good as Backs). Depth at centre is 100x better than depth at wing.

    If we have Backs on our 3rd line, that gives us a 1a 1b 2a combo down the middle, with 3 lines that can match against any player in the league.

    Oh, and for those saying Backs is not a pressure performer – his playoff performance and OT goal in the 2nd round says otherwise.

  • MattyFranchise

    I appreciate the thought and effort that went into this article but I think you could have phoned this one in by simply posting “how good are backlund and frolik together? Really really good. Done! Next!”

  • Ernesto

    Hi
    This is my first post, I have been reading other peoples comments for the past year. I have only one question ” Why do so many people dislike Backs???? He is without a doubt one of the best two way forwards in the game.

  • MonsterPod

    It is so refreshing to see some Backlund = Meh comments on here. Of course they’re roundly Trashed, but at least there are some realistic people on here.

    Boomer on 960 has consistently shrugged at this Backlund love-in. As Warrener has said, being a ‘shut down’ center, nobody is afraid to match up against this guy, and as we all know, the Flames have been slump-busters for years.

    Perry and Getzlaf have gone cold? No worries. Play the Flames and face Backlund, like the first meeting this year where Getzlaf posted 5 assists. Conversely, nobody wants to line up against Kesler, a player whose attitude I can’t stand, but you’re a fool if you don’t respect him. I realize Kesler is a #2 and is paid twice as much. My point is that Backlund intimidates no one.

    No doubt Backs is a good hockey player, but I have no interest in him being my shut down center in a playoff push. I want a guy who’s better in the dot and who can throw a bodycheck now and then.

    Trash away…