Way, way back in 2007, the Calgary Flames made a move that seemed out of character at the time. After spending a few seasons drafting rugged, big-bodied Western Canadian players of various positions, they dipped into the European scouting pool and selected Mikael Backlund of Vasteras with their first round selection.
Tonight, improbably, he’ll play his 400th regular season game with the Flames.
Backlund’s success and survival within the Flames organization are a bit of an oddity for a few reasons. Those reasons are several general manager changeovers, his relatively modest offensive production, and his status as a first round selection from a previous regime.
The first and third points go together somewhat, and we’ve heard this story before. A general manager gets axed and a new guy comes in, trying to make his mark on his new club. How can he do that? Well, some prominent pieces of the previous GM’s long-term planning are the first round picks he made. Trading firsts is somewhat common for new GMs if only because it allows them to make a splash without usually derailing their own plans for the club or altering the main roster. (Example: Sven Baertschi was prominently traded to Vancouver by Brad Treliving after he became GM.)
Fun fact: How many past Flames first round picks made the club and then survived long enough to get to 400 games? Four, with Backlund making it five.
- Tom Lysiak – Atlanta’s first rounder in 1973
- Paul Reinhart – Atlanta’s first rounder in 1979
- Al MacInnis – Calgary’s first rounder in 1981
- Gary Roberts – Calgary’s first rounder in 1984
A common thread among these first rounders (and the 13 other Flames draftees that made it to 400 games with the franchise)? Offense. Almost all of them were more prolific scorers than Backlund, aside from maybe Tim Hunter (who served another era-specific purpose). How many times have you heard on talk radio or the internet, “So-and-so isn’t scoring, they should trade him.” Backlund has never been considered a top-flight offensive player, even when he has consistently put the puck in the net. Yet his two-way play has cemented his place in the Flames roster, which is a testament to (a) Backlund being great at what he does and (b) teams around the league, including the Flames, developing a more sophisticated understanding of player value in recent years.
Drafted by Darryl Sutter, Backlund’s on his third GM (fourth if you count interims). He’s survived managerial changeovers, coaching changeovers, and the Flames being both quite good and quite bad (both situations where load-up or shake-up trades happen frequently). For these achievements, and those he’s yet to hit, we salute him.