FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Mikael Backlund

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.

Season Summary

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. 

Via Corsica:


  • 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)
Everything about this is impressive and hopefully it’s appreciated as such. The only concern which should stem from this is the ghastly high 15.09% shooting percentage at 5v5 which helped offset the 6.56% from the first 41 games played at 5v5.

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

Via Corsica:


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.

    • FireScorpion

      He’s even more solid when his gaffes aren’t reported in post game writeups. A game against Dallas comes to mind when a glaring giveaway that ended up in the net wasn’t even mentioned briefly. The double standard Backlund enjoys. Hope he comes prepared for the start of the season for a change

      • ChinookArchYYC

        In other words, don’t confuse me with the truth, I’ve already made up my mind.

        I guess you expect perfection from Backlund? Just curious does, does Big and Local need to be perfect too, or is this just for players that don’t pass your eye test.

        • FireScorpion

          Perfection? Of course not. But I do expect a boneheaded giveaway; that I believe ended up costing the team the game..to at least be mentioned in the post game write up. But since its Backlund..and you know when he goes weeks without scoring it’s because “he isn’t expected to score”

          I mean can you imagine if Joe had done it, you know that would have at least 2 or 3 paragraphs dedicated to it.

          Quite sure it was against Dallas. The bias is what annoys me

    • Kevin R

      Seems to me we should trade him while he still has value on his contract & his value to me has peaked as a player. #3 overall here we come :-}

      Attention: This is a paid advertisement by The Great WW

  • Derzie

    Luck is a four-letter word. Using it puts an article into the trash zone. Tools of the hockey gods. Voodoo. Magic. No analytic discussion should talk about luck. It become a placeholder for the hole in the discussions.

    • Randomness exists. Understanding the role of luck in life in stuff like sports is essential. Not everything is absolutely predictable or causative. Sometimes you flip a coin 10-times and it comes up with heads 80% of the time. Sometimes it’s 20%. It just happens.

      The great leap made by modern stats analysis in the NHL is less possession and corsi and more the bounds and influence of randomness in the league.

      • SmellOfVictory

        Not to get too pedantic, but in theory, given a complete data set and flawless measurements, shouldn’t everything above a quantum level be predictable? This would obviously be way beyond any practical expectations, but it’s something I’ve always been curious about.

        • KiLLKiND

          No, because even given all that information, sometimes a goalie can turn into a brick wall, or struggle to stop a beach ball. Players cannot influence this look at Jones in game 5, given the shots for and against, powerplay time for and against and every other stat except goals and goaltender statistics who would you predict to win that game?

          Pittsburgh is the obvious answer, but San Jose won. Hockey isn’t predictable sometimes you need to get a lucky bounce, or deflection to score sometimes you just need to play a complete game and continue putting pucks on net. The only way there ever will be to know who is going to win a hockey game is to play the game.

        • Baalzamon

          That’s sort of the goal of Big Data. The thing is, the data set required for a 100% accurate predictive model would be far, far beyond the bounds of human comprehension.

          In other words, for something like that to exist, you need an ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence).

          • mattyc

            This is getting beyond hockey, but I don’t think 100% is possible, even theoretically. The world’s probabilistic rather than deterministic. Chaos theory, bruh

    • mattyc

      No analytic discussion is complete unless you acknowledge the role of random variance. Unless you believe your outcomes are solely based on your decisions and actions.

  • Jeremy

    I realize my opinion will be unpopular on FN, but Backs should be traded as part of a deal to move up to #3 in the draft, along with the #6 pick.

    Backlund will very soon be a #3 centre on the Flames with Bennett taking his spot. I believe that with Frolik and Colborne on his line Sam would push possession every bit as well as Michael can, but score even more.

    The Flames have a ton of centres available to them with Stajan, Shore, Arnold, Grant or even Jankowski ready to man a #3/4 role.

    You have to give up something worthwhile to get something even more worthwhile.

    • KiLLKiND

      That is a gross overpayment, especially when one of Keller, Nylander, Sergachev, or maybe even Tkachuk or Dubois will be available. It is unpopular simply because it is a horrible trade. The list of centers you provided that the Flames have none of them can do what Backlund does.

      Yes you have to give up something to get something you want, but that is far too much to give up. If you are suggesting Backlund for the 3rd at least make the trade even such as Backlund plus our 54th, for the 3rd and Keegan Kolesar.

      Even that trade I would be against as we need 3 lines to compete for the cup as Pittsburgh has shown with the HBK line being the best 3rd line in recent history. Having Backlund as our 3rd line center is ideal, he is on an extremely cap friendly contract and consistently drives play forward despite the teamates we have play with him and horrible zone starts. We need to be adding asset not subtracting two of our top assets for 1 pretty good one that hasn’t proven anything at the NHL level.

  • JMK

    Just looking at general fanager, didn’t realize that Stajan, Giordano, Hamilton, Brodie and Raymond all have NTCs (for at least portions of contracts). Interesting, makes a lot of trade suggestions involving Raymond and Stajan a little trickier.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    “The only concern which should stem from this is the ghastly high 15.09% shooting percentage at 5v5 which helped offset the 6.56% from the first 41 games played at 5v5.”

    What was his shooting percentage in the last 41 games then? Dare I say over 25% to bring it up to that 15%?

    He is a good player, and I don’t want to be negative, but if he CAN somehow get us to #3 then it needs to be done.

    If you wonder about where he ranks on our team as a C moving forward, think about whether or not Columbus would do a deal of #3 for #6 and Backlund. I doubt that would get it done, whereas I bet we could trade Sean or Sam for #3+ and keep the #6 pick.

  • MonsterPod

    Speaking of predictors, how many times will there be a Backlund article here that is 100% A+ super duper positive?

    I love how today’s rhetoric is all about possession possession possession, and there is never any mention about how this guy kinda sucks in the dot.

    • Baalzamon

      I love how today’s rhetoric is all about possession possession possession, and there is never any mention about how this guy kinda sucks in the dot.

      Because the benefit of winning a faceoff is instantaneous and short-lived. It actually has virtually nothing to do with possession.

      Ask Evgeni Malkin how much it matters. This season he won just 42% of his draws, which makes two years in a row under 43%. He’s never crested 50% in his career.

      Daymond Langkow was one of the best play-driving forwards EVER. And he never won more than 47% of his draws IIRC.

  • MattyFranchise

    Winning faceoffs has no direct effect on possession measured with a shot based metric. I believe that it does affect to some degree the zone time of the team winning the faceoff but there isn’t actually a direct correlation between zone time and shot measured possession either.

    On the other hand, you don’t really need to be a math wizard to know that winning a faceoff and having the puck is better than losing the faceoff and not having the puck but in all honesty I don’t think that winning faceoffs as important as people make it out to be in the grand scheme of things.

    For instance, with a minimum of 41 games played last season there 76 out of 176 players listed as centers that had taken a faceoff and won more than 50%.

    Golden boy Connor McDavid only hit 41.2% and he ranks at 151st. Is he a terrible player? Obviously not, he just sucks at faceoffs, he provides value to his team in other ways. Backlund’s 47.2% puts him at 114th, he proves his value to the Flames in other ways.

    Colborne hit 54.8% on the dot, is he better than Backlund?

    Faceoffs don’t directly correlate to scoring and scoring chances. The current possession metrics do.

    Not sure why I ended up going on this rant but I think that faceoffs are grossly over valued.

      • MattyFranchise

        Because you can win a face off and lose the puck in seconds, because you can win a face off in your own zone and then get swarmed by the opposition, because you can win a face off in the offensive zone and lose control immediately.

        Mario Lemieux scored off of a face off once, is that because he was good or because he was really effing good at face offs. Or does it mean that all face offs directly relate to scoring?

        Hey, I may be wrong and if proven that I am wrong I will immediately recant my earlier position and argument for it.

        But flippant remarks are not going to prove me wrong.

        Backlund is a steal because he and his line mates put the puck on the net. Scoring is the only thing that matters, it doesn’t matter how his line does it. He and his line mates get it done.

        If face offs were so important then why is one of the best players in the League in Malkin so bad at them? Why are rookie phenoms McDavid and Eichel bad at them? Why are two centers I’ve never heard of with half of an NHL season played so good at them?

        Please, explain to me why face offs are suddenly so important when it comes to scoring?

        Because right now it really seems like you are digging for reasons to hate on Backlund despite all he does for this team.

        By the way, when Kesler was winning all of those face offs, he was top five in the league all season long at face off wins, why wasn’t Anaheim scoring any goals?

        Further reading: http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/why-faceoffs-arent-as-important-as-theyre-made-out-to-be/

        I would direct your attention to the following comment made on that article:

        Faceoff men do their job by winning the faceoff…it’s technically a pass..if the receiving winger or d-man cannot transition that technical pass to either break out of their zone or achieve a shot on net by controlling the play…it’s the fault of the aforementioned players…not the faceoff man and his stats..he made the ” pass” possible..it requires team mates to make the next move. Besides..when a faceoff man hits the puck first yet the opposing wingers take possession ,how does that figure as a faceoff win? I’ve argued this for years…if you slap the puck first but the oppsing team takes possession…then they bloody well won the faceoff..appears quite simple to me…but ..well..so am I.

        Face off percentage is over valued and having a center as good as Backlund is being right in the bell curve for face off percentage… using that as a mark against him? It’s absurd.

        Yeah, winning face offs is nice, but ultimately they don’t matter. It’s who has the puck 2 seconds after the draw that does. Face off win percentage is soon going to go the way of the +/- stat, mark my words.

        • Burnward

          Flippant? Maybe.

          But if we win the draw, I don’t have to go get the puck back.

          Seems to add up to possession to this guy.

          Or I could Corsi muffin one from the blue. That’s much more effective.

        • Kevin R

          Seriously, when there is less than a minute in the game, goalie pulled , down by 1, I want a guy that can win the freaking face-off . Who the f is Dominik Luszczyszyn & why should we suddenly be following his infinite wisdom that face-off performance doesn’t mean anything????? Jeeesh now Ive heard everything. Last i looked, Crosby won about 52% of his face-offs & he was the MVP. Would he have been had he only won 42%?

          • MattyFranchise

            Yeah, you probably do put that guy on the ice. But that guy is most likely the same guy that is on the 4th line playing under ten minutes a game. Same reason to put Colborne on the first 3 shootout guys. Fourth line players are there for a reason, ideally, they can play a regular shift and are good at something. They specialize.

            Backlund is just flat out good for the other 59 minutes of the game. So are a lot of other players that are not exactly good at face offs.

            As for questioning the credibility of the link I posted, it’s from hockeynews, if you bothered to read the URL, I hear they’re a pretty damn respectable publication.

            And for your Crosby example, there are many, many, many, people that didn’t think he deserved the award ahead of players like Jones, Murray, or Couture. Not to mention he’s the “best player in the world”, which is not something I disagree with. He scores and he drives scoring. I question whether or not his massive point total has anything to do with his face off percentage. Because there are a ton of excellent players with a sub 50% face off win rate.

          • Your confirmation bias on faceoff win% is showing based off an award.

            I don’t think anyone was citing “Man, Crosby’s faceoff% was so good it’s why he was Conn Smythe. Jeez if he didn’t win so many the Penguins would have lost”.

            The point is there is unreasonable stock put into the differential or win% when it misses the forest for the trees. There is a lot that happens after the faceoff win or loss that should be valued as much, if not more than a faceoff win/loss.

    • Bananaberg

      Have you actually run the numbers on this? I have a hard time believing that a face off win — especially in the offensive zone — doesn’t have a statistically significant correlation with shot attempts at the opposition net.

      Conversely, I would be surprised to learn that a defensive zone face off win doesn’t have a significant correlation with shot suppression.

      Have you broken down the face offs by the zone they’re located in?

  • Burnward

    In no way should Corsi be used as a predictor but an evaluator.

    Less than 50 percent of individual Corsi game wins actually result in a win.

    It’s a way to say…Yeah, we lost but only because their goalie was great.

  • MattyFranchise

    I normally don’t do this but thanks for trashes guys! Possession positively correlates to scoring. Face off wins do not. Explain to me how I am wrong.

  • Fat Tony

    Backlund’s potential is an intelligent 2nd to 3rd line mid level (hasn’t hit his ceiling in my opinion) producing center, depending on what upgrades the flames make and if hes healthy. Not to mention his leadership qualities.

    Say what you want about him, I’ve watched him since his first game and hes gotten better every year. I feel confident when hes out on the ice and killing penalties. Hes worth every penny

    Just wanted to get that out there