An early look at a Mikael Backlund extension

Through three quarters of the season, it’s tough to argue against Mikael Backlund being Calgary’s most valuable player. In the midst of a career season, Backlund will be eligible for a contract extension starting July 1 and there’s plenty to suggest the Flames should lock him up as soon as they can. While it’s still a little ways out, I think we can start to get a pretty good picture of what Backlund’s next deal might look like.

Currently Backlund is on a sweetheart deal that counts $3.575 million against Calgary’s salary cap and expires at the end of next season. Because his offensive totals were relatively low compared to his overall impact, the Flames were able to lock Backlund up to that cap friendly three-year deal in the summer of 2015. This time around, Backlund’s deal is going to be a little more substantial, so let’s take a look at why.

The evidence

Backlund has been one of Calgary’s most important forwards for quite some time now. Even though his offensive totals have only started to jump off the page in the last two seasons, he’s been the team’s best two-way centre for the better part of five years now. Facing the toughest opposition, shouldering immense defensive responsibility, and generating lots of offensive zone time have become frequent occurrences in Backlund’s time as a regular NHLer.

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Sure, there are players who have finished seasons with higher shot rates than Backlund over the last few years, but none of them have taken on the same time of defensive load. Likewise, a few players every year see even fewer offensive starts than he does, but none of those players generate zone time the way Backlund does. Plain and simple, Backlund has been Calgary’s best play-driving forward over the last five years.

Backlund’s impact also rubs off on teammates because the guy makes seemingly everyone who plays with him better. In what has now been branded the “Backlund Bump”, we’ve seen a number of players benefit greatly from playing on his flank. That’s best illustrated by comparing outputs over a full season playing with and without Backlund.


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The trio above are representative of virtually everyone who spends time with Backlund. When playing on his line, results are strong and then they typically drop when removed. But, of course, most of this isn’t new to most who frequent this site, so I’ll move on to the really interesting stuff.

Assessing the market

For sake of this conversation, let’s assume the Flames are going to try and lock Backlund up long term this summer. In that case, coming up with comparable contracts is best served by looking back to last summer and some of the deals signed in free agency.

Remember, Backlund’s camp will be leveraging Calgary with what he might be able to get on the open market, so the most recent signings are the most pertinent. Below are some of the bigger deals signed on July 1st of 2016.

Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers (7 years at $42 million, $6 million AAV)

Kyle Okposo, Buffalo Sabres (7 years at $42 million, $6 million AAV)

Loui Eriksson, Vancouver Canucks (6 years at $36 million, $6 million AAV)

David Backes, Boston Bruins (5 years at $30 million, $6 million AAV)

Frans Nielsen, Detroit Red Wings (6 years at $31.5 million, $5.25 million AAV)

The most fascinating name on that list to me is the final one. Nielsen and Backlund are extremely similar players, both in the way they play and the manner in which they’re used. I honestly think Backlund’s ballpark contract starts around Nielsen’s and when I started to compare the two that became even more clear.

In comparing Backlund and Nielsen, I did an aggregate of the two years leading up to a new contract. For Nielsen, that would encompass the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 seasons while Backlund’s aggregate is staggered one year later and includes this season currently in progress. Look at how eerily similar the outputs are on these guys.


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It’s also important to note the age difference between the two players. Nielsen’s contract kicked in at the age of 32 while a new deal for Backlund would start when he’s 29. That three year difference is significant because there’s a good chance a Backlund extension would cover a greater number of productive seasons.

Conclusion

If I’m the Flames, I’m getting a deal done with Backlund this summer and I’m not letting it drag into next season. What’s the point of waiting? Backlund is a key part of this team’s present and future and I’d worry delaying an extension would possibly just make his price tag even more expensive. I honestly can’t see a reason not to figure this out as close to July 1 as possible.

Using Nielsen’s deal as a good gauge, I think Backlund’s next deal is likely going to be in the six year range and somewhere between $5 and $6 million dollars per. I think there’s a decent chance Backlund takes slightly less to stay in Calgary, but you also have to think he’s looking at this next deal to set him up for good.

Because Nielsen is such a similar player, and because Backlund’s next deal would kick in for him at a younger age, I don’t think six years at $5.5 million is out of the realm of possibility. With the way he’s trending, he’d likely get more on the open market.

  • Arminius

    Definitely become more durable. Perhaps he will become a Ironman as he gracefully slips into his old man Swedish strength. One of those Euros that can play forever..Good article as always Pat

  • supra steve

    “you also have to think he’s looking at this next deal to set him up for good.”

    I know what you’re saying Pat…and I know you are correct, but the guy already has what…over $15 million in career earnings?

    That would “set” my family “up for good” just fine.

    Professional sports is a strange business.

    Having said that, I hope the Flames and Backlund are able to come to a fair agreement.

  • Newbietwo

    Over $5 million is reserved for players who average 45 points plus a season.. he is a solid player and his success is coming in big part to a role of Frolik who does a lot of the heavy lifting also.. I would go $5 million at 5 or 6 years.. if he doesn’t bite then go to $5.5 but that’s it

  • everton fc

    He’s been arguably our most valuable player. And yes, Frolik (and Tkachuk) have influenced his production. But it seems he makes other players production better when they play w/him as their centre.

    He deserves to be paid as such. Dumping a few bad contracts will help. Brouwer’s deal now looks even more like a millstone. If we could somehow move that contract (though I know we won’t)…

  • Newbietwo

    Brouwer only has a limit NMC after next season which means even TRE built in the possibility of trading him then.. if in 2018/19 he needs to be traded he will get teams to take him.. we might have to eat $1 million but so be it this I don’t see it as a problem

  • Greg

    I’d wait till part way into the season. See how Bennet and tkachuk progress first so you can forecast your cap structure out further first. You aren’t going to be able to plug the 4D and top RW holes and keep everyone, not when there’s still bad value contracts like Brouwer around for several years. Giving yourself as much time as possible to get as much information as possible is a good thing.

    I have to wonder if the Gio contract would have come in a little lower had they not signed it a full year early.

    • Kevin R

      I actually thought the same thing. Pat is assuming Backlund is going to improve even more next season & then ultimately push the price higher. But at 29, thatisnt so. I expect better production & performance from players like Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett, Tkachuk. They are all performing at very young ages. I don’t know how wise it would be for Treliving to push hard at an extension after Backlund (in my opinion) is having his finest NHL season. You are in essence buying high on Backs. Absolutely Backs earned a good raise, but if he flattens or even drops off next year slightly (possibly hampered by injury, whereas this year, knock on wood, he has had a relatively healthy season) we may be able to get that term & dollar down to 5 years at 4.8-5.0 mill per. & yes, if I were GM, I would really want to see how Bennett & Janko progress by next year.

      I think it was Elliott Friedman saying, GM’s rarely sell players high in the NHL even though they view players as assets. Backlund just might fit into that category that at 29 years of age & coming off a career season, his value/return could be huge if he can be sold as a #1 centre. Which he truly is this season. I am just throwing this out there for discussion, I would love nothing better but to see Backs here for another 5 years.

  • Newbietwo

    I say we make a trade and go get Halak and give them Johnson in return plus a lower pick and have them retain 1.5 million which makes his contract for 1 year $3million and then we move to sign Elliot after the season is done and role those two next year

  • freethe flames

    I’m not sure I’m giving anyone nearing 30 a 6 year contract, pay him a little more each year but keep the term managable 4 years and keep the NTC to a minimum.

    $6m x 4 years 1&2 LNTC, year 3 even less no trade and final year none. Tired of players holding up their teams from moving forward.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    If anyone is questioning how much Backland is worth… You just need to ask yourself which player we could il-afford to lose to injury at this stage (Knock on wood).

    The one thing that people rarely mention is how gritty he has become. He will always stand up for his teammates, as illustrated when Tkachuk received a cheap shot to the head.

  • freethe flames

    There is an interesting series of articles on ON on possible trade prospects in the AHL. Is there a diamond in the rough just waiting for the right opportunity?

  • C Watson

    As I write this post I know a lot of the readers are going to ‘trash’ me. But, it is reality, and here goes anyway.

    As it stands for the 2018/19 season Flames have $41,225,400 committed to 7 players; Johnny, Mony, Frolick, Brouwer, Gio, Dougie and TJ. Assuming a cap of $73,000,000 this leaves $31,774,600 or an average of $1,985,912.50 for each of 16 other players including Backlund, Bennett and Tkachuk. Let’s say for arguments sake that Backlund is signed for $5M, Bennett for $2.5M (cheap, not likely) and Tkachuk for $2.5 (cheap, not likely). That is another $10M for 3 players leaving $21,774,600 for 13 more players, an average of $1,674,969 each. We still need a #4 Dman (assume $3M cheap, not likely) and 2 goalies (assume $6M) leaving $12,774,600 for the remaining 10 players.

    By prematurely reuping Backlund, Treliving could be severely restricting himself and leaving no wiggle room to improve the team.

    • Greg

      Not sure why you’d expect trashes for that. I think everyone is aware of the long term need to resign Bennet, tkachuk, and upgrade the 4D spot, and solidify the goaltending long term, and retain backlund. It will be tight for sure.

      That said, it’s tight for every team. The flames will have the same opportunities and challenges to navigate as everyone else.

    • Baalzamon

      By prematurely reuping Backlund, Treliving could be severely restricting himself and leaving no wiggle room to improve the team.

      And trading Backlund would make them worse. You don’t get into cap trouble by paying a player like Backlund what he’s worth, you get into trouble by paying Troy Brouwer more than Michael Frolik.

      • C Watson

        I agree with you, but the Frolik and Brouwer contracts, good or bad, are already in place.
        Nowhere did I suggest trading Backlund. I only suggest it is too early and too unclear as to what the future cap situation will be to resign him at this time.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    If McDavid gets the richest contract ever awarded and Matthews and Laine improve in years 2 and 3 on their outstanding rookie seasons, and ditto for the mouth guard masticator, that will mean that MT will be the highest paid player in Flames history and if aforementioned Big 3 have contracts that pay north of $10M a season, Matty has be around $8M/yr. If Bennett figures it out in another years or so, he’s making Johnny bucks or more.

    Might be time to trade Backlund at the end of the year as his stock won’t likely go any higher, and he may trend upward for another couple of seasons, but on a 5-year deal, two up arrows are cancelled by 3 down arrows. There are also questions about Backlund’s durability as this is the first season in a while that he has not spent much time in the sick bay. Finally, it is always better to get rid of a guy a couple of years early than a couple of years late. If Tre had followed this policy 2 seasons ago and when Wideman had his Cinderella year and had been a more aggressive seller, Wideman would have been long gone from these parts. Tre also kept Hudler a year too long, but that was forgivable as he no doubt was concerned about the progression of Monahan and Johnny.

    Move Backs this offseason for a 4th defender or a gritty RWer. I am more than certain that MT will continue to grow very nicely without Back’s mentoring.