FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Niklas Backstrom

When Niklas Backstrom came to the Flames following the 2016 trade deadline, he came with a guarantee that he would get some games in. At 38 years old, and having not seen the ice in 14 months, it was nothing more than a last hoorah for the aging netminder, and the Flames at least got a sixth round pick out of it.

Backstrom played four games with the Flames, including their regular season finale against his old team, the Minnesota Wild. It was a nice ending, but nothing more.

Season summary

The last time Backstrom had played? Jan. 13, 2015, in a 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Wild traded for Devan Dubnyk the very next day, he saw success in Minnesota, and that was pretty much that.

Except Backstrom still took to the ice in Minnesota when healthy, even if he was the team’s third goaltender, and relegated to the pressbox. So in exchange for David Jones, the Flames took on Backstrom’s contract – just a little cheaper than Jones’ – and a sixth round pick, and Backstrom got to take the ice for actual games once again.

His first game was a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, a .955 SV% effort in which he didn’t have to do much. His second game was a much different story: facing off against the Wild for the first time in his career, he was subjected to a 6-2 loss, during which he had just a paltry .793 SV%. It was hardly an ideal return to his old barn. Backstrom’s third game came against the Anaheim Ducks, when he subbed in for an unfortunate end to Jonas Hiller’s NHL career; he let in five goals on 22 shots for a .773 SV% over the final 53 minutes of the game. 

It was Backstrom’s finale – to the season, and probably to his NHL career – that was probably his best showing, though. With a .972 SV%, Backstrom stopped 35 of 36 shots and collected his first ever win against the Minnesota Wild. The Wild had nothing to play for by that point in the season, but they clearly weren’t willing to lay down and die, and Backstrom more than earned his win.

Overall, Backstrom played four games for the Flames, and had a .881 SV%. He won’t be back, but it was cool while it lasted.

What comes next?

Probably a pretty sweet retirement life, maybe even with some coaching gigs or hockey schools here and there if he’s up to it. Backstrom played 413 games, almost exclusively with the Wild. If this truly is ultimately it, I’m happy the Flames were able to let him go out on his own terms.

    • cjc

      A similar sentiment was posted somewhere else here a few days ago (blaming Bollig for scoring that goal, I think). It makes no sense. If that lottery ball was pre-destined to come up, then Calgary was pre-destined to beat Minnesota in their final game of the season.

      Calgary could have lost, finished fourth from the bottom, only to see the 26th overall ball come up in the lottery. The narrative would then be tanking isn’t really worth it unless you finish 29th or 30th.

      For that matter, why focus on that one game? There were lots of games the Flames won after the tank was officially on, they’re all to “blame”. Or you could blame the team for not tanking hard enough, but what else could they do? They gave Backstrom 4 frickin’ starts down the stretch! I’m sure benching Gaudreau and Monahan for multiple games would have gone over well in ensuing contract talks.

      For my money, 26th overall was the best place to finish. It was an accurate reflection of where the team was at and will therefore lead to better decisions being made.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    I keep stating on here that the #1 concern heading into next season is finding a #1 goalie.
    Others have stated they need forwards .They might need some more forward depth but not before goaltending,which was abysmal last season.

    Calgary does not have 1 goalie under contract with even 1 game of NHL experience.
    It’s hard enough to find 1 goalie let alone 2.

    • wot96

      Flames got league worst goaltending last year and it would have been epicly bad but for a bit of recovery when Ramo started regularly and with Ortio’s finish. Had Hartley remained the coach, I would agree with you. But he isn’t so I am not sure that goaltending is the positional priority.

      Assuming they hire a coach that imposes some defensive structure – an “average” goaltending year is much more likely. A reduction in offence from the defence is also quite possible depending on the system imposed. In that case, the forwards have to do more with less support and ideally that means a skilled winger needs to be injected into the lineup. To be sure, fewer head-scratching personnel decisions would be welcome and one can only hope Hartley’s replacement can manage that.

      So, I don’t agree with your post provided they hire someone that can bring some #^&>! structure to the defensive side of the Flames’ game.

      • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

        Agreed but you still have to find someone at least more than adequate to fill the pipes.All i’m saying is that at the moment they have nobody.

        Are you saying it was the goaltending last year or the lack of overall team defence that was the problem?

        • wot96

          I think goaltending, structure and team defence are inter-depenent and interconnected issues that cannot be easily disconnected and, even if you could, what would be the point?

          Hiller’s numbers fell off a cliff last year and I don’t think that could have been forecast, and I don’t recall anyone forecasting it. But the team clearly had less confidence in him than Ramo and Ortio presumably because he seemed to let in a crap goal more often than not. Ramo and Ortio occasionally let those in but more often they just got beat on shots that better goalies might have stopped.

          Resigning Ramo would clearly be a risk because of his injury. Resigning Ortio seems safe and sensible because of his later year performance (and because I don’t see that he will be too expensive) but not as a starter because of his inexperience. So yes, the Flames do still need a starter but it doesn’t need to be Carey Price or any of the really high end keepers that may be available.

    • cjc

      The team needs help everywhere. A goalie is part of that and they will undoubtedly sign at least two.

      The question to ask is what kind of goalie they should target. Cheap but capable and short term? Give up assets for a franchise goalie signed to term? Something in between?

      The goalie problem may be most pressing, but it may also be easier to fix properly the season after next, when the team will have more cap flexibility. The only goalie I’d really like to see Calgary acquire this year would be Andersen, but that’s going to cost us. I wouldn’t be upset if we went short and cheap. We’ll also know a bit more about Gillies, MacDonald and Schneider by that point.

  • Derzie

    Backstrom helped us in that he showed that our team is human. Playing him was the human thing to do. As a result, we have a pick of the 3 best North American-based players. The top three played in Europe so how that translates to NA ice is a risk. I’m really glad we are where we are and that Backstrom left the NHL with a lot of respect for how Calgary does business.