Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Setting Mikael Backlund’s fair market value

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.

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From Custance (warning: it’s paywalled):

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.

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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:

  1. Other pending UFAs are signing extensions and dropping off the market, making Backlund a rarer commodity.
  2. The completion of another Selke-caliber season, bolstering Backlund’s strong resume.

    • Danomitee

      Carl you’re active, but thank god your not the GM. Love Backlund, too much money and term for a guy exiting his prime in that contract. 3-4 years max, and it shouldn’t cross 5 million. Too many up and comers we’re still waiting on, we have to break this habit of overcommitting to veterans.

      • Kevin R

        You need to remember is that he will be a UFA & someone is going to pay a #2 Centre of Backlunds ilk to 5.5 for 5 or 6 years. Then add in if we have any playoff success & Backlund is a big part of it, that inflates his price tag even more. I can see Backlund giving us a bit of a hometown discount but he won’t go 3 or 4 years on a deal, he’ll go to the market & get his 5 or 6 year deal, you can take that to the bank. Im with Carl, it’s right in line with Turris & he is a valuable member of this team, give him the 27.5mill over 5 years, if you give him 6 year, you could probably get that cap hit down to 5.0 mil per.

      • HOCKEY83

        But isn’t that exactly what everyone is doing with the prospects just because they’re puttin up the points in the junior leagues and are Flames prospects. You never know how a player is going to make the transition to the NHL re…Bennett who as per his junior stats was as good as anyone is doing right now in juniors but has done nothing but regress from season to season over the last 3 seasons. Backstrom is a Proven very good 2nd line center which almost every team in the league would gladly sign for somewhere between 5 and 5.5 for 5 to 6 years.

  • BendingCorners

    This should be interesting. Giordano got 6.75MM and 6 years taking him to age 39 and a partial NTC. The last two or three years of that contract will be problematic for the Flames since Gio probably won’t stay good all the way to the end.
    Using Gio’s contract as a guide, if BT really wants to keep Backlund he is going to be paying close to 6MM x 6 years which takes Backlund to age 35 and probably includes two mediocre years at the end. 5.5 x 5 would be better (thanks Carl) but as a free agent Backlund should be able to get 6×6 without any difficulty.

    • Jobu

      Hes constantly top 3 in fitness testing every year. He may not be worth 7 million at 39, but he’d probably still be worth 3.5. Think “Chris Chelios at 39.”

      • HOCKEY83

        We can only hope his fitness will last but very hard to believe it will. Especially for a D man who needs to get back sooner than everyone else. It gets harder and harder to do as you get into your mid to late 30’s. Flames will more than likely pay a team to take him off their hands in a couple of years.

        • Kevin R

          Walt, he’s our #2 centre & I don’t see that changing for the next year or 2. If you’re mind set of #3 C is right, then why are they keeping Byng on that line. They are having another great year (3M), if you don’t give this guys decent offer he walks, we get nothing back & the 3M will be down to 2M. Sometimes you have to add that extra year & $750K per to keep a piece of your team fans, media, coaches & management intact. Cost of doing business. I would take Backs over Nuge any day of the week.

          • class1div1

            He wins a Selke trophy ,he’ll price himself right outta town.Get it done already.If Tre was happy giving Brouwer what he did he should have no problem offering up 5,5 x5.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Chuckie will be at least $8M to $9M per year, and that is with the hometown discount.

        Your little bald buddy up north reset the bar and Terry and Kim in Buffalo nailed it in place when they gave Jackie $10M a pop.

        Chuckie is going to be the highest paid Flame for a long time, at least until Johnny and Mony’s contracts run out.

        • Willi P

          People said the same about Gaudreau. Look how that turned out. MT is an RFA with no leverage and nothing BT has done so far indicates that he will overpay like the Sabres or Oilers.

        • cberg

          Zero chance MT gets even close to those numbers. Very small chance he exceeds Gio or JG. Tkachuk is a very good player but he’s not the best on the team but any stretch and BTreliving ignores the other ridiculous GMs out there, especially when the player has no leverage. If Tkachuk is set on a hug contract, and I don’t believe he is, he would have to settle for a smaller bridge deal first and prove his worth.

    • Guadfather13

      Technically his best years should be behind him, but he was a bit of a late bloomer…… should be a really good third line center until his mid thirties!

  • Parallex

    So they’re not that far apart is what I’m reading. 5.25 vs. 4.75 and 6 years vs. 5 years… honestly if Mickis gets the Frans Nielsen deal I would be A-ok with that.

  • Atomic Clown

    Backlund knows the cost won’t be the issue, $5 million is the rough figure. Term is the main issue, as he wants long term security. If he’s 29 right now, then he probably wants something until 35 atleast.

    • Flames fan since 83

      If Tre offers 4 years, then there is no risk how he plays in year 4 for the Flames.
      Because he won’t be playing for the Flames!
      If the Flames want Backlund, they will have to overpay the last couple of years. It’s just the way it is, because someone else will.
      The question is how much overpay, and is it worth it.
      Tough to say. We got guys on the way up. (Jankowski, Dube and maybe still, even Bennett ).

    • HOCKEY83

      How is 4 years not a big risk but add 1 year and its a big risk. doesn’t make sense. He gets at least 5 years or he walks for nothing is what I’m sure his manager is telling him.

      • Flames fan since 83

        100% agree, Backlund moves on if this is only 4 years. Backlund is getting married, and is thinking of his future family now. Some GM out there is going to offer a lot for his services.

  • Puckhead

    Unfortunately for Tre, Bennett has not panned out at centre (at least yet). This would have given him an option in the off-season – to either keep or flip Backland in a trade. Best case scenario now is to sign him to a reasonable deal ($4.5 – $5M), at a price that will be easy to move at a later date, if needed.

  • TurkeyLips

    Backlund is a good #2/#3 center. He plays his position well. As Tre says, it’s a three line league nowadays. I say keep him. Anything less than 6mil per year is good, considering the inevitable cap increases to come.

  • Off the wall

    “Backlund bump “ Isn’t that the saying we frequently use?

    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 Flame.

    If he gets Nielsen money,(5.25M) we are winners. Backlund wants 5-6 years. Give it to him, he’s earned it.

    For those that say he’s holding up our youth, who are you referring to? You know a better two way centre not named Backlund on this team?

    Jankowski is just ‘cutting his teeth’ on the team and is hardly replacing Backlund anytime soon.

    Or the argument we need to save cap space to extend Tkachuk.

    Stajan (3.5) Brouwer (4.5) that is where you get into cap trouble, not by signing Backlund to $5-6M over 5-6 years.

  • freethe flames

    Take what he is making this year add 1/2 of Stajan’s salary x 4 years. Take 1/2 of whats left of Stajan’s money and sign both Kulak and Janko for 2/3 years.

      • The Doctor

        Oh, that sounds so sweet to my ears: a Brouwer buyout. Stajan is coming off the books too, correct? Imagine, a Flames team with no albatross contracts. It is to dream . . .

        • HOCKEY83

          The Flames could possibly be letting walk next season Stajan, Jagr, Bart, Versteeg, Lack as well as a possible Brouwer buy out barring any trades before the season is over. They’ll be room for some of our better prospects to make the team next season without having to get rid of Backlund. He has been great for the Flames and deserves fair market value for his services. A few of the teams this season in the east and west got rid of key players going into this season and have dropped dramatically in the standings. You never know what’s moves are going to cause a team to take steps back and I think getting rid of Backs will do just that.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    With Tre as our GM, I don’t think Backes stands a chance.

    It’s 4-4.5 for 4 years with trade protection in the last two years. And if it’s ultimately for less money or he walks, I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

    Tre has shown he’ll let the house burn down unless he gets what he wants.

    • BendingCorners

      Leverage. Backlund is a UFA July 1st so he has it, Tre doesn’t. Choosing to stay is entirely up to Backlund and if he made to feel unwelcome with a low-ball offer then 30 other teams will line up to pay him. I don’t see how anything less than 5.5 x 5 gets the deal done, and 6 x 6 is not out of the question.

  • The Doctor

    Off-topic, but Jacob Markstrom is in the process of stealing a game from Philly on behalf of the Canucks. Vancouver has had a few of those this year. And Philly needs a goalie in a bad way.

  • Lets Get Something Clear

    Even if the Flames get Backlund at something like 6x6M, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. He’s a much better bet at that term and price than, say, Lucic.

    • The Doctor

      Lucic isn’t a bad player, but he’s a tad overrated and there’s a specific reason for that IMO. First of all in Boston he was surrounded by a top-tier team and put on good lines. He goes to LA and then Edmonton and again, at least at first, they give him top line minutes, power play time etc. In LA he again had the luck of showing up for a season where they were very good. Same goes for last year when McDavid was banking pucks in off of him. Now, when he’s actually on a losing team, he’s on pace to score 12 goals.

    • JusAFlamer

      i have never been an oiler hater, but all the off season “cup favorites”, “best player in world” and all the oiler trolls all summer sure made me hope for them to fall down a few pegs, now if only McD will hit a slump (10th or so in league scoring at end of season) then i be happy.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Love the player. Monny may be our top line Center but Backlund is our best Center. I have no doubt he would light it up as the first line Center with primo zone starts. Pay the man.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    There was a time that I would cheer for Oilers thinking it would help them lose. I feel bad doing that now. That was a shellacking 8-3 against SL. I have come to the realization that I dislike Oiler trolls more than the Oilers.

    • Parallex

      Oh yeah, the Oilers aren’t filled to the brim with reprehensible sh!theels like Anaheim. So I don’t hate the Oilers… until their fans come out in droves, then and only then do I really want to see them (the Oilers) suffer.

      • Atomic Clown

        That’s a revelation i had last year. I mostly respect to a certain degree the players the Oilers have (Nurse and Kassian not included), but its their self centered fans that are equally arrogant in planning the parade, and tanking for the next first overall pick that I cant stand. Kesler alone makes me hate the Ducks. Followed closely by Bruce you-fat-f**k Boudreau. Whatever team he happens to be coaching joins my list of teams i hate

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    $4.95 x 5 years
    And he gets a percentage of all future earnings from Tkachuk, Bouma, Joe Colborne, and every other player he helped make a lot of $ (earned or not)

  • oddclod

    johhny – monny – gio – brodie led the way with smart team guy deals as will backs. Everyone loved him (i) always did and he knows it. He had a hard time going from being the Swedish-Sakic in JR worlds to a checker. He’s now showing that confidence and steely mentality. He actually has upside to come IMO… that said, Management should reward the guys that cut deals by shredding the bottom 6 and coaching in ways that are obvious to all. (Coaching – anyone with foresight knows he’s an interim coach for when they are really ready for that father figure + coaching pedigree that they will soon start to long for. They had to essentially get a players coach to grow into men gradually, then when they start to demand more, the room will take over the team. GG is done this season or management is officially sleeping on this team. Lightning in a bottle post season or not. Alas… a playoff can turn goat to hero, but don’t be fooled…. this best be the last year for XXX XXX XXX AS A SYMBOL that those good guy deals will not be wasted by mixing mediocre minds with our the elites. Think Yankees, Manchester United, Zero tolerance for extended non performance. #BUHBYE #GOFLAMES #JAGR4JESUS – @oddclod /// instagram

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Matty’s old man was an absolute handful on the ice–a true power forward in every sense of the word–but he was an even bigger pain in the ass in the boardroom when it came to negotiating contracts. Keith’s father and grandfather were staunch union men who taught Keith at a young age that all business owners were skinflint bastards. As an NHLer, Keith carried on the family tradition of never trusting owners, hence contract negotiations with him was a blood sport. He has instilled in Matty that same disdain and contempt for owners, so when it’s Matty’s turn to hit the jackpot in 2019, you know he is going to hold Murray Edwards’ feet to the fire. Don’t think Edwards crying poor is going to be well received by the lad. Just like Keith taught Matty how to stick an opponent in his junk and not get caught, he schooled Matty how to Bengal box tightass owners who think nothing of exploiting their workers. Go get ‘im, Matty!

    • Keith M

      That’s all great but things are different from when Keith Tkachuk played, the salary cap will dictate salary and Matthew hasn’t put up the numbers of Draisaitl from last year. I can’t see the Flames paying Tkachuk more than Gaudreau.

  • Cheeky

    He’s earned a raise. Considering he’s a selke nominee, puts up points, plays both special teams and bumps all that he plays with. He is our best all around forward and with Bennett no longer in the running for centre, will be paid as such. A 5 x 5 would be a victory on BT’s part. If guys like Brouwer can get ridiculous contracts, Backs can too…