It’s hard to believe that it’s been nine years since the Flames drafted Mikael Backlund in the first round. Since then, he’s had to battle through injuries, limited usage, being talked as a potential trade piece numerous times, and consistent criticism.
In a season that was dreadful for the team there were limited bright spots that occurred: one of which was a season that may have been long overdue, but nonetheless, was impressive. Finally, after many seasons we were treated to seeing a lot of what we here at Flames Nation have appreciated for many years.
The 2015-16 season was a tale of two stories: maligned shooting percentages with bad luck and a career year. It looked to be an extremely rich narrative of targeting his initial totals with the rhetoric of the new extension not being justified. Even at one point garnering rumored interest that the Habs were pursuing him, Backlund stayed the course and broke out, all of which worked out nicely.
From virtually every measure in the last 41 games played versus the first 41 there was a dramatic change as things began to shift for him. His 18 points in the first half were quickly overshadowed by season’s end by the 29 he scored in the latter half. Still, the ever present reality and regular constant of Backlund’s impact in underlying metrics proved he was still capable even with the initial bad luck.
- Career high in points (47)
- 38 of the 47 points accumulated in 2015-16 were primary points (goals, first assists)
- Career high in goals (21)
- Career high in even strength goals (14)
- Career high in even strength primary point totals (24)
- Career high in primary assists (12)
On top of the success during even strength play Backlund also led the team in shorthanded goals with three. It’s worth noting that over the past four seasons in total, he has nine shorthanded goals; tying for second in the league with Jonathan Toews.
Impact On Team
One of the biggest changes in 2015-16 was a shift in Backlund’s zone start ratios. In 2014-15’s regular season, we saw Backlund start 39.48% of his shifts at even strength in the defensive zone. This past season it dropped to 32.17%. Along with that came a minimal shift in his quality of teammate (the y-axis above) from 30.87 to this past season’s 29.93.
Regardless, from a goal differential and shot differential perspective Backlund had one of his best seasons. It’s not just his individual results that are impressive, it’s also what he does with his teammates that makes him all the more valuable:
This topic has been covered ad nauseam for awhile now so I’ll sum this up very quickly:
Every player on this team in acceptable enough sample sizes benefited from playing with Backlund. The conflagration that occurs when he is on ice often enough results in goals, shots, and scoring chances. Again, none of this should come as a shock because it’s painfully obvious that Backlund is a benefit to this team.
What Comes Next?
Right now a healthy Mikael Backlund like fans witnessed this past season is one of the best contracts based on the results he produces. We’ve seen what a full season can be for him, along with what happens when you give him linemates who can produce and provide meaningful impacts on the ice.
Ultimately, the marriage of Backlund and Frolik on ice showed that acquiring and keeping these archetypes of players is valuable to all teams. They quickly became a duo, in a different light to how Monahan and Gaudreau operate. It gave the team further stability down the roster and the cornerstone of that is the 27-year-old Swede who put up a fantastic season despite a slow start.
It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that he has another strong season numbers-wise with extensive time on the penalty kill and secondary power play time, though there is genuine curiosity on whether his goal totals can be around where they were.
Next season looks extremely promising for Mikael Backlund and the Flames. It’s just a matter of seeing if they take a collective step forward to make a push.