There was an atmosphere of relief and optimism at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday morning. Rather than being related to any Canadian Olympic triumphs, the good feelings were related to Swedish forward Mikael Backlund, who received a long-term contract extension from the Calgary Flames the evening prior.
Almost to a person, everyone’s very excited that the contractual saga is finally over with.
“It’s nice to have it over with, the negotiations, all that,” said Backlund. “This has been in the back of my mind since July 1. I’m very relieved it’s over, but mostly just excited and thrilled, but it’s going to be nice to move forward now.”
From an on-ice perspective, Backlund’s new deal arguably polishes off the only dangling piece of unfinished contractual business and removes a potential distraction from the past two months of the season. He’s been pretty effective this season, but his head coach thinks he could be even better for the home-stretch.
“Backs is a real, he’s a bit of Ferrari in there, like he’s fine-tuned,” said Gulutzan. “The way he lives his life, everything’s gotta be in tune. And I think when you’re negotiating during a year, everything gets off rhythm. I think this next 20-some-odd games is gonna be even better from him.”
Flames captain Mark Giordano summed up the feelings in the locker room regarding the new pact for Backlund.
“It’s a big day for our team,” said Giordano. “Backs is really one of the elite two-way centermen in the league and to get him locked up long term, obviously we feel we’re a team that can win now, get into the playoffs and make some noise, but to have him here is a big statement for our team. Nice for him. I know how those things are, you can get a little thinking about it as the deadline gets closer.”
From an off-ice perspective, Backlund’s six-year extension gives the Flames management group a solidified core group to work with as well as some certainty regarding long-term salary cap room. Both of those things could become important as the Feb. 26 trade deadline creeps closer.
“It allows you to be able to be able to say okay, what holes do you want to address, and it gives you a financial picture of your team,” said general manager Brad Treliving. “And we all hear the same reports, the expectation the cap’s going to rise, but when you have cost certainty at the top end of your roster it allows you some flexibility and takes a little bit of the guesswork out in situations where you want to add or change. It’s helpful.”
Treliving cautioned that the Flames might not do a lot before the trade deadline, but noted that their biggest piece of unfinished business had been completed.
“I know everybody gets juiced up going into the deadline, but our biggest question was Mikael,” said Treliving. “That’s our biggest piece of business coming up to the deadline. You never want to get into a situation where players leave and you get nothing in return, so getting that done was important.”
Gulutzan had a few injury updates after the morning skate: Mike Smith (lower-body) skated on his own on Saturday morning prior to the main group. Troy Brouwer (facial fracture) skated with the main group but remains day-to-day. Kris Versteeg (hip) is skating but not ready to join the game group for “a little while.” Marek Hrivik (undisclosed) was hurt in practice recently and is being evaluated in terms of severity and timelines.