Mikael Backlund has some competition for the claim of Calgary’s best value contract. After being bestowed the honour the last two years, Backlund’s three-peat is in danger thanks to the emergence of a new contender this season. I won’t lie, narrowing this to a top three was more difficult this year than in the past, which reflects nicely on the team’s current cap situation.
So did Backlund lock things up again? And if not, who has the best value contract on the Flames in 2018? Let’s find out with our third annual list.
As in the past, I haven’t included players on entry-level deals, as the current system almost guarantees those contracts carry high value. As such, you won’t find Matthew Tkachuk in our top three, even though his contributions on an ELC constitute the very best value on the team.
I’ll pass out a couple honourable mentions, too, because this list was somewhat difficult to whittle down. Johnny Gaudreau is one of the two highest paid players on the team, but he was close to cracking my top three with what he’s accomplished in comparison to other similar cap hits across the league. Other players given thought were Brett Kulak, Dougie Hamilton, and Sam Bennett, but the top three ended up looking like this:
3. MIKE SMITH
It’s tough to imagine Smith’s first year with the Flames going any better than it has. From night one, Smith has given Calgary an opportunity to win virtually every single night and has provided the team true number one goaltending for the first time in years. Smith has been one of the NHL’s top goaltenders this year, and his measurables back that up (high danger SV% courtesy Corsica).
I’m quite certain the Flames would be thrilled with numbers like those if they were covering Smith’s entire $5.67 million cap hit. Thanks to the deal they struck with Arizona in June, though, Calgary is only covering $4.25 million of that annual total, which made his inclusion here even easier.
What’ll be really interesting is whether Smith finds his way onto this list one year from now. He’ll be 36 next season and in the final year of this contract, but if he gives them anything close to what he’s provided this year, it would be hard to leave him off.
Similarly, the conversation about Smith’s future is an intriguing one. Would the Flames consider bringing him back after next season? And if so, what would that contract look like? Regardless, we know Smith’s first season with Calgary has been stellar thus far, which makes his cap hit look pretty darn good.
2. MIKAEL BACKLUND
Yep, Backlund has dropped out of the top spot on this list after sitting on top the last couple years. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still provide the Flames with outstanding value. After finishing fourth in Selke Trophy voting last season, Backlund has put together another good case to be in that conversation once again this year.
It’s the same old story with Backlund: despite having the third lowest offensive zone start ratio on the team, he’s spent far more time on the attack and has produced at a solid rate to boot. On top of that, Backlund sees significant time on both the powerplay and penalty kill and averages more ice time (19:16) than any other forward not named Gaudreau. You’re not going to get much better on a $3.575 million cap hit.
Of course, as a pending unrestricted free agent, this might be Backlund’s last year on this list. While he hasn’t signed an extension as of yet, I’m still confident that’s going to happen. However, this is the first time Backlund has had the ability to leverage a contract worthy of his importance. In the end, whether his contract is great or just fair value, the important thing is the Flames get Backlund locked up beyond this season.
1. MICHEAL FERLAND
Ferland’s $1.75 million cap hit has gone a long way this season, and that’s why he’s the new man on top of this mountain. Ferland sits second on the team in goals with 19, fifth in points at 30, and has been a mainstay on Calgary’s top line all season long. To get all that on an extremely reasonable cap number makes Ferland one of the better value contracts across the league.
What’s really encouraging about Ferland’s season is how productive he’s been five-on-five. While he sees decent time on the powerplay, the bulk of Ferland’s offence has come at even strength, as evidenced by his stellar scoring rates this season.
Fifteen of Ferland’s 19 goals have been scored at even strength, which puts him behind only Sean Monahan for the team lead. Similarly, with 25 even strength points, Ferland trails just Monahan and Gaudreau in that category. To see him producing at comparable rates to guys making more than $6 million per season certainly underlines how much value the Flames have gotten out of Ferland this season.
On the one hand, Calgary has Ferland under contract for next season too, which is good for their cap situation, especially if he can produce at a similar rate. Conversely, though, Ferland is trending towards a brand new salary tier and away from the ridiculous bargain he’s been this season.
For sake of this article, let’s say Ferland finishes this season with 28 goals and 50 points and follows that up with similar totals in 2018-19. That would very likely put him into the conversation for an average annual value closer to the $5 million range (think Jonathan Marchessault in Vegas). My advice would be to enjoy Ferland at this price while you can.
Whatever happens in the future, Ferland has provided the Flames with ridiculous value this season. Even if his production drops off in the second half, Ferland has already outperformed his $1.75 million cap hit as it stands right now. It was going to take a lot to knock Backlund off his top value perch, so give Ferland credit, because he’s been a steal of a deal.