Last week, in his overview of the upcoming 2018 National Hockey League free agency crop, The Athletic’s Craig Custance shed some light on the ongoing negotiations between the Calgary Flames and pending unrestricted free agent Mikael Backlund.
In short? Don’t expect a deal in the immediate future because of some disagreements on what market comparables are for the Swedish centre.
9. Mikael Backlund, Flames (center) – Unless something changed over the weekend, there haven’t been any significant discussions on this front since training camp, and, at that point, the two sides were fairly far apart annually on a contract extension. The Flames would prefer to get a deal done in the range of a player like Colorado’s Carl Soderberg, who comes with a salary cap charge annually of $4.75 million. Backlund is likely looking for something closer to the Frans Nielsen deal signed with the Red Wings. Nielsen signed a six-year deal worth $5.25 million per season when he hit the UFA market.
There’s probably a deal to be made at some point since both sides are interested at the right price, but Backlund has never made more than $3.575 million in a season and this is his best chance to cash in. That’s not an insignificant factor.
The challenge here seems to be figuring out what good market comparables are for Backlund. Before we dive into that, here are two things that we’re pretty sure of: Brad Treliving is a fan of Backlund’s (as is the coaching staff) and it seems apparent that both sides hope to keep Backlund here long-term. That increases the likelihood of Backlund taking a “less than market” deal to stay a Flame.
Backlund will be 29 when his current deal expires. He’s almost exactly a half a point-per-game player over his almost 500-game NHL career, and his production has up-ticked to 0.62 points-per-game over the past three seasons. In short: he’s a strong middle six two-way center and has unlocked his scoring touch over the past three seasons. There’s enough of a book on Backlund at the NHL level to guess what his production will be like as the age curve hits him.
It’s the lack of a book that makes Soderberg such a bad comparable. He signed his current deal at age 30 after playing just 161 games in the NHL, period. Despite a small sample size, he got five years and $4.75 million on the open market despite playing a lesser role and scoring less (on a per-game basis) than Backlund has.
The ceiling for Backlund’s contractual ask probably is $6 million per year (on a long-term deal), represented by David Backes and Kyle Turris. Backes got his deal on the open market (at age 32) and Turris got his as part of a very elaborate trade-and-sign contract extension deal (at age 28). Both players had nearly identical points-per-game over the three seasons prior to signing of roughly 0.69 – a fair jump above Backlund’s production.
Two decent comparable players, in terms of age, role and offensive production, are Frans Nielsen and Martin Hanzal. Nielsen signed a six-year deal with a $5.25 million cap hit on the open market at age 32, while Hanzal got three years and a $4.75 million cap hit at age 30 as a UFA. Hanzal’s offensive production is almost identical to Backlund’s over the last three seasons (on point-per-game basis), but an easy argument can be made for Backlund’s importance over the past three or four seasons as a reason to nudge the cap hit up a little bit. Thus, a reasonable floor for Backlund’s new deal is probably around $5 million over three or four seasons.
But it might be prudent for Brad Treliving to get something done fairly soon with Backlund. While there’s no incredible time pressure, two factors probably push his price up as the season chugs along:
- Other pending UFAs are signing extensions and dropping off the market, making Backlund a rarer commodity.
- The completion of another Selke-caliber season, bolstering Backlund’s strong resume.