Aside from Sam Bennett, Brad Treliving’s remaining priority this summer may be re-signing Mikael Backlund. After labouring in relative obscurity for years, Backlund established himself as a premier two-way centerman last season, managing a career high 22 goals and 53 points while playing some of the toughest circumstances in the league. As a result, the 28-year-old finished fourth in Selke voting.
Backlund’s current contract doesn’t expire until next summer, but the Flames have the option to re-ink him now.
But the question is – should they? And if so, how much?
Let’s get the first question out of the way – of course the Flames should re-sign Backlund. He remains their best even strength pivot and their best penalty killer. Backlund’s ability to take on tough competition makes life much easier for the club’s scorers and he tends to make almost anyone he plays with better. Of every regular skater who has played for Calgary over the last three seasons, Backlund has the best GF% (goals for ratio) at 5on5 at 52.9%.
The real question is, should they sign him now? Backlund’s stock has never been higher given his career-best point total and Selke consideration. The gamble for Treliving is this:
- Lock up Backlund now at his peak value and risk him coming back down to earth next season.
- Wait until next year, only to see Backlund do as well or better next season, further increasing his price.
Although none of Backlund’s results this season were due to circumstances or a percentage spike, it’s possible he could see less offensive and PP ice time next year, decreasing his counting stats and potentially lowering his asking price. Of course, if the 3M line has anywhere near the same impact in 2017-18, he may still be in line for Selke consideration and a bunch of leverage in negotiations.
For now, let’s assume that the deal gets done sooner rather than later.
What should the Flames offer? We’ve noted previously that the range for Backlund comparables seems to be in the $5.25 – $6.0M territory.
Frans Nielsen scored a six-year, $5.25M per year contract from the Detroit Red Wings last summer at the age of 30, and is perhaps the best comparable available. If we take his deal as the exemplar, it gives us a length and average annual value (AAV) to work around.
Backlund has worked through a number of smaller, “prove it” contracts over his career, so we can safely assume the player is going to look for both term and dollars since this might be his last chance to cash in. On the other hand, the Flames will want the lowest cap hit possible given potential future raises to Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett down the road.
Meaning Treliving will want to find ways to drop the AAV to $5M per year or less if possible. He has two tools to accomplish this, which both relate to security: no trade clauses and term.
An NTC or NMC obviously gives the player power over his future. I think most GMs tend to hand them out far too easily, but sometimes they are justified – particularly if the player is of high value and the clause is given in exchange for dollars.
And, of course, the Flames could append a tail end to Backlund’s contract with lower salary to drop the AAV. For example, a structure like this: $6M-$6M-$5.5M-$5.0M-$4.5M-$4.0M-$3.5M gets the Flames under $5M/year, saving the team valuable cap space during its contention window.
It also takes the player to his 35th birthday, deferring a bunch of risk to the team’s distant future. For Treliving, the gamble here is it worth it to trade the future risk for present cap savings?
So what would you do? Give Backs “the Nielsen” of around $5.25M or more over five or so seasons? Offer him a shorter, but richer AAV? A NTC? Or the long tail deal that lowers the cap hit but increases the chance of suffering through a declining player with a big contract down the road?
Or do you just wait it out to see how he does this season?