FlamesNation player evaluation: Mikael Backlund

Mikael Backlund is a reliable hockey player. The product of Vasteras, Sweden has become a foundational piece of the Calgary Flames lineup over the past half-decade, rising from being a fourth liner in the early days of Bob Hartley’s tenure to a consistent name in Selke Trophy conversations.

The 2017-18 campaign saw Backlund take a step forward and a step back, as his box-car statistics took a bit of a tumble but he was arguably more important to the Flames’ success than he ever has been. He also signed a six-year contract extension that’ll see him with the club through the 2023-24.

2017-18 season summary

Stop me if you’ve heard this tale before. Because Sean Monahan is more of an offensive force than a reliable 200-foot player, Monahan’s line got a ton of offensive zone starts and avoided tough matchups while Backlund’s line got more defensive zone starts and matched against the toughest competition on the other team.

Backlund played more per game than any Flames forward not named Johnny Gaudreau – even more than Monahan. A lot of that was likely a result of Backlund being such a fixture on the club’s special teams units; he was consistently on the second power play unit and the top penalty kill unit all season, so that time added up. He played almost exclusively with Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk on the vaunted 3M line.

Games played Goals Assists Points TOI/GP 5v5 CF% 5v5 CF% rel OZS% PDO
82 14 31 45 19:01 56.22 +3.81 46.20 .951

One of the reasons that Backlund didn’t return to Selke contention this season was how leaky the Flames were when he was on the ice. He had the worst plus/minus rating on the entire team, but a lot of that was driven by percentages – he had an 5.7 on-ice shooting percentage (second worst among regulars) and a .894 on-ice save percentage (worst among regulars). His possession numbers were nuts, as always, but the puck luck just wasn’t there; in many ways, Backlund was the 2017-18 Flames embodied in a single player.

Compared to last season

Backlund shot the puck a ton this year, setting career highs for shots and individual Fenwick, Corsi and scoring chances. Unfortunately, the puck just didn’t go into the net. His personal shooting percentage was 6.5, his lowest since his injury-shortened 2010-11 season, and well below last season’s 11.2%. A career average year (8.9% shooting) would’ve had Backlund score 19 goals and matching last season would’ve had him score 24.

Like the entire team, Backlund didn’t do great on the power play this season. In 2016-17, he had 33 scoring chances, seven goals and 16 points. In 2017-18, he had 20 scoring chances, three goals and 11 points. He wasn’t the reason why the Flames didn’t score a ton on the power play, but the team definitely needed more out of him this season.

A few years back, the big knocks on Backlund were that he couldn’t stay healthy and that he couldn’t score consistently. Well, the 2017-18 season was the third in a row where he played over 80 games – he’s missed one game in the past three seasons – and even with his on-ice percentages collapsing like a dying star, he still had his third consecutive 45-point year. If he had any puck luck whatsoever, he would’ve hit 50 points for the second straight season.

What about next season?

Backlund has a very well-defined role on the Flames and it’s unlikely that’ll change under Bill Peters. He’ll be relied upon to be the team’s tough minutes center and shut down the opposition, but also counted on to consistently contribute offensively. Given that he’s the forward that plays the most combined special teams time, a turnaround by the Flames’ PP and PK will have to be driven, at least in part, by strong performances by Backlund in both those game situations.

The good news is that “consistency” has been Backlund’s catchphrase over the past few seasons. Barring the Swede suddenly forgetting how to do everything he’s good at over the summer, it’s likely that he’ll be able to produce another 40-point season. If Tkachuk can continue his progression or Frolik can have a bounce-back 2018-19 season – or perhaps both happen – then another 50-point year isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

#5 – Mark Giordano #7 – TJ Brodie
#8 – Chris Stewart #10 – Kris Versteeg


  • SgtRoadBlock

    Let’s Click Bait this up…..
    Backland 3rd line Center/PK deal with it..
    Put the Team before the player people some Fan don’t see that ..
    This Team would break like a slim Jim when they got Push around or scored on in the 1st 10mins of the game…we need new Blood in the Line up not this Teddy Bear Care Bear Roster ,

    • Nick24

      Who are you playing above him? Jankowski? Lets get real here. Unless Jankowski takes a huge step (which he likely won’t), he’s not going to usurp Backlund. Jankwoski gets some of the cushiest ZSR (59.15) on the team, and still has a negative impact(RelCF% -3.52). He needs to prove he can do what Backlund does to take his spot, and there is nothing he’s done to this point that suggests he could. No one on the Flames can do what he does. He’s the best defensive forward the Flames have, and playing him on the 3rd line is a terrible waste.

      Take a look at the remaining teams in the playoffs. They’re all teams that have elite skill on every line. Bringing in more bruisers with the delusion it’s going to help wont work. Just a glance up North shows you what happens when teams begin prioritizing attributes other than skill. This Flames team needs more skill and there needs to be a reevaluation of how the bottom 6 forward group is constructed. Curtis Lazar and Garnett Hathaway cannot be trotted around as effective depth. Brouwer’s ice time needs to be heavily reduced and his defensive responsibilities should be alleviated(ZSR 49, ESP/60 1.13). Bringing in another high end forward would also help a lot.

  • Raffydog

    Finished the season at -21, so he can’t score, can’t stop anyone from scoring, so what does Tre do? How about a six year extension for way to much money. It’s going to take this organization years to recover from Trelivings idiocy.

  • Flaming Glory

    Tkachuk’s progression isn’t going to affect Backlund because he’s not going to be on his line RIGHT Bill? He’s going to be in a scoring position RIGHT?! I thought so too…

  • HAL MacInnis

    Backlund is a polarizing player, at the moment. He sucked hard this year (no one can deny that)… but that was under some of the absolute worst coaching we have ever seen. I’m going to give him a pass this year for the Gulutzan factor. Glen done tainted the entire roster this year, I tells ya.

    Peters is gonna have his hands full getting rid of all the stupid that was learned this year.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      Okay, let me ask specifically, if I may:

      What specifically about Glen’s coaching do you feel corrupted Backes’ ability to be successful this year?

          • Baalzamon

            Which is weird, because Gulutzan was supposed to be about systemic structure as well.

            I guess that’s the difference between an idea man and a details man. Glenn knew what he wanted to accomplish, he just didn’t know how, or how to teach it. Peters is supposedly the details guy so I guess we’ll see if that improves matters.

          • MontanaMan

            The excuses are running out if Brodie and Backlund’s woes are 100% caused by Gulutzan. If they don’t perform this year, who are they going to blame? At some point, the player needs to take some accountability.

      • Jobu

        Poor Shooting Percentage is a result of taking too long to make the shot – Goalie getting in position. the entire team suffered from this. Nary a one-timer to be found on this club, not even on the Power Play

        Agreed with oilcan, the defensemen being told to take forever to get the puck up ice also limited Backlunds chances at getting decent shooting/scoring opportunities.

        Personally Jobu thinks Froliks struggles also impacted Backlund.

  • Joeyhere

    Backlund is what he is – a very decent defensive 3rd line centre with a questionable compete level.
    Problem is our top six depth is so thin we try and make him a 2 way second line centre
    If we had a Ryan o riley type as a 2C Backlund would have played a valuable supporting role. Instead our lack of depth forced him up and gave him the ammunition to argue for that huge contract
    I am not saying Backlund isn’t a good player – he is – but he’s not the guy who leads you into war or wins a playoff game for you
    Flames trapped themselves an overpaid him
    That contract takes up cap room and is going to look really bad In three years

    • Mickey O

      Maybe not trapped themselves (see post below, as we were both posting at the same time.)

      Like the RoR trade angle myself and have pitched a 3 way deal with Buffalo, Calgary and Vancouver.

  • Mickey O

    Treliving signed M. Backlund to a $5.35M x 6 year extension. The consensus view was that the dollars were cheap (he would have commanded $6M+ on the open market), but that the term was going to be a problem hopefully later rather than sooner. This extension could have been a fiendishly smart move by Treliving.

    If Backlund gets traded, then the term is someone else’s problem. By keeping the dollar amount relatively reasonable, it makes the whole contract easier to move. On a very good team, Backlund is a 3C. On a bubble team, Backlund is a 2C.

    If the Flames want to make the next step, then someone has to jump up internally or a trade should be made. Yes, I would be shopping Backlund hard. He’s a valuable commodity that other teams want.

  • Sterls

    Slightly off topic, But RoR said in an interview today that he wants to stay in Buffalo and suggested his comments were more focused on his inability to produce as a key player on the team as opposed to the team itself being the problem. He claims he doesn’t want out, so he isn’t asking for a trade which makes him a very expensive acquisition.

    • Mickey O

      He said all the right things to Dreger, but the hat gave him away in a second video after the season. A blacked out Blue Jays hat with a bright red maple leaf on it? C’mon now. Eichel was wearing an old school Sabres hat in the same video.

      O’Reilly is tired of playing for Canada at the Worlds every year. You can’t blame him for wanting out and playing on a Canadian team that is closer to the playoffs than Buffalo are.

  • freethe flames

    Slotting Backlund in the proper place is the real issue. If you think he is a number 2 who can score 25 and be your top defensive center then you are fooling yourself and the Flames lack of depth at center puts him in that slotting and he’s just not that guy. If you make him your defensive center first and foremost and are happy with 15+ goals then he can be that guy. Unless Janko takes the next step offensively next year Backlund will remain miscast. There is no doubt in this fans name that the Flames need to add depth at center and acquire some guys who are better face of guys if we want to compete.

      • freethe flames

        MIckey: You have been making quite a case for the RoR trade and I fully understanding how much he could help us. My question for you are there less costly alternatives out there? Have you given any thought to other options?

        • Mickey O

          Maybe it is reading too much into things, but I’m pretty sure RoR wants out and Buffalo is taking a risk in keeping him. As for other options, the chatter is about Tavares and where he’ll end up. But I just don’t see it being Treliving’s style. Tavares isn’t signing anywhere for less than $10.5M minimum, and long term. That really handcuffs any GM, and throws your internal pay structure out of whack.

          Now you are forced into an Oilers type situation where they have to find cheap options and churn them through the line-up when they need to get paid. ChiaPet doesn’t have the smarts to make that happen.

          Buffalo would have to eat some of O’Reilly’s contract to get it to $6.75M or less. That keeps everything nice and cordial with the 3 players on the Flames making about that money. It also sends a strong message to Byng’s camp that that’s the way it is going to be.

  • Hockeyfan

    What about next season for the the sweet swede who got big term and $$$ for being a worse player and started to show the beginning of his insignificance and ineffectiveness for this club? w
    Well, he will overtaken by Janko as 2nd line center and if we pick up a Kane or a Tavares, his spiral into below mediocre territory will be faster. Why give a sweetie pie a raise for being worse, because he’s a sugarplum? Why not, look how far all these sweet nice have taken this for 3 decades, mediocre and below if big big moves aren’t made. This team would fold and give in the playoffs i’m watching.

  • FL?MES

    GG was in deep water and was responsible for overplaying both Smith and Backlund. He drove them hard because he didn’t know else to do or how to deploy players effectively. Backlund also has the crappiest and hardest job on the team, hands down. Let’s see how Backlund and the rest of the team rebound under BP.

    • freethe flames

      He also had little cjoice b/c of the lack of depth on the team. BT needs to address this. We have bandied about RoR and JT’s name but I suspect BT is exploring some other options as well. Pittsburg has 4 RFA’s that need to signed and currently under $5m to sign them; one of them is likely to come free. Florida has @$9m in cap space and RFA’s to sign and some guys under contract that thye might be looking to move. The Ducks have @9m in cap space 4RFA’s and some decisions to make with UFA’s..The Rangers have 7 RFA’s to sign and a poor D core but lot’s of money and while I know they say they are in rebuild but I just don’t get the sense they will be patient. Another team with lots of RFA’s to sign is the Jets they do have cap space but I suspect they can’t won’t sign them all. There are also good UFA’s out there as long as you don’t sign them for term.

  • freethe flames

    Watching the playoffs has re-affirmed something I have said for a long time; the Flames do not have enough talent/depth at center. the importance of winning face offs was clearly shown on the Cap’s second goal. If somehow BT could add RoR that could change.(What would be a realistic offer to get it done) BP has stressed his belief in the need to win face offs and I suspect he and BT have talked about it.

  • buts

    Too much money paid for a third line Center. He should thank MT for his contract. Bottom 6 players should be a max of 2 million. His contract will be a burden. Thanks Tre, you are making bad moves and this summer will define your career here.

  • Franko J

    Another player on this team last year who did not perform to expectations.
    There is no doubt in my mind his contract status was affecting his on ice performance. Yeah the contract now may look like a salary cap anchor, but was BT going to do. Some would say let him walk away in free agency, I for one think he is of more valuable to the team and if slotted properly is a pretty good PK player.

  • Burnward

    If he’s making 5.5 he can’t be what he was last season.

    Disappeared, settled, wasn’t his best year.

    Guy can play but now that he’s got paid I fear this is Plekanec 2.0.

    Great trade chip though. And at worst an effective player, just greatly overpaid for what he brought.

    On him to step it up.

  • TriPPiNvdUb

    This board is ridiculous, Backs is a stud. The entire team had a down year in some fashion or another with the exception of a few players. The 3m line matches up against the best lines in hockey night after night and usually come out of it with the advantage, they carried this team for a good stretch the last 2 seasons and with out Backs and Froly we wouldn’t even be thinking playoffs over that time.