FlamesNation player evaluation: Mikael Backlund

Mikael Backlund has been one of the most reliable two-way players in the National Hockey League since 2013-14. This past season, he continued to play within the same role he’s had for years and performed rather well.

2018-19 season summary

Like many of the Flames, Backlund had a strong offensive season. Relied upon to shadow the NHL’s best and brightest alongside super-pest Matthew Tkachuk, he still managed to put up some impressive offensive totals.

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Games played Goals Assists Points TOI/GP 5v5 CF% 5v5 CF% rel OZS% PDO
77 21 26 47 17:54 55.33 +2.13 57.82 1.019

Backlund missed five games this season: four due to a concussion after a hit from Matt Dumba late in a Flames win over Minnesota, the fifth was as a healthy scratch in April after the Flames clinched top spot in the division and conference. Other than that, he played second line minutes in every game, with time sprinkled in on the second unit of both sides of special teams.

Elias Lindholm emerged during the season as the top penalty-killing forward on the team, so players like Backlund and Michael Frolik were a bit de-emphasized (in favour of players like Derek Ryan, Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway that were less relied-upon at even strength). The benefit of not using Backlund and Frolik as much to kill penalties was seen in Bill Peters’ reliance on them on “bump up” shifts following kills, aiming to press the tired opposition players coming off an unsuccessful power play.

The de-emphasis of Frolik was a bit of a pattern throughout the season, with Backlund and Tkachuk accompanied by a rotation of right-side partners: Frolik, Sam Bennett, James Neal, Lindholm and Austin Czarnik all got a go. Considering Frolik had the best results by a sizable margin on that line, it’s curious that Peters was so resistant to just keep the trio together.

Third Man 5v5 TOI CF%
Frolik 427:34 59.16
Bennett 194:34 55.43
Neal 75:49 53.57
Czarnik 73:13 57.52
Lindholm 25:00 56.86

Backlund hit career highs in five-on-five goals, primary assists, points and scoring chances (and just missed a career high in high danger chances). Possession-wise, he had the fourth-best Corsi for percentage among regular forwards – behind only Tkachuk, Frolik and Lindholm.

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Rates-wise, Backlund was among the leaders in shot generation rates – shot attempts, shots and scoring chances – and more middle of the road in shot suppression rates. That said, playing against the top players in the league on a regular basis is bound to take a bite out of your underlyings and considering how many pucks went in the right direction (and into the opposing net) while he was on the ice, I’m sure the team considers the 2018-19 season a rousing success for #11.

Compared to last season

Backlund played effectively the same role in 2018-19 that he did in 2017-18. He played about as much and was used in the exact same general situations, though he had a high offensive zone start percentage in 2018-19 (and actually the highest he’s had since 2009-10).

His offensive and defensive rates were down a bit across the board from 2017-18, but all that amounted to was lower event shifts for Backlund’s line. His possession numbers were very similar, except he personally managed to generate more scoring chances.

What about next season?

Backlund is heading into his 30-year-old season. He’s under contract for five more seasons and has been performing as a high level two-way center for the past four or five seasons. It’s reasonable to assume that his numbers will stay roughly the same, though that depends on (a) how Tkachuk keeps developing as a high-end player and (b) what happens with Frolik. If Frolik is traded and Backlund and Tkachuk play with somebody significantly worse at hockey, life will become more challenging.

That said, if Backlund could carry the likes of Lance Bouma and Joe Colborne to productive seasons, who’s to doubt his ability to do it again?

2018-19 player evaluations

#4 Rasmus Andersson | #5 Mark Giordano | #7 TJ Brodie | #8 Juuso Valimaki | #10 Derek Ryan

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  • withachance

    I want to ask the posters here about their thoughts on Kevin Hayes. A big bodied center who can drive play, still young at 27, and likely getable as an UFA around the 6-6.5M range. He’s displaying all the signs that he could be the Lindholm of next season and really breakout with genuine offensive stars like Johnny and Monny.

    He’s played with Johnny before on the same line, cousins with Tkachuk, and allows Backlund to drop to 3C and rotate with Monny as top 2Cs in the lineup.


    • Flameon13

      I personally like the player and if we could dump enough cap to sign I would be all for it but I would play him on the top line between chucky and lindy and move Monny and Johnny to the second line and try them with Bennett for the whole season since Bennett might finally be coming into his own after his playoff performance.

      • Flameon13

        See if we could move some unneeded contracts for picks to make cap space.
        Trade Frolik for a 3rd rounder.
        Trade Stone for a 5th, 6th or a 7th whichever sends him on his way.
        Trade Brodie for a first rounder or move our first and Brodie for a top 10 pick if possible.

        • withachance

          Brodie can be traded for a top 6 player and a pick. Only Frolik and Stone need to be moved for cap reasons, Brodie is simply the most valuable trade chip the Flames can afford to deal

          • Flameon13

            I don’t mean it as Brodie being a cap burden I meant more so to get Chucky’s new contract done and to be able to afford to sign Kevin Hayes in free agency his contract should be moved without taking cap back

    • deantheraven

      Always been interested in getting this guy. He could be an impact player.
      Wonder if BT has asked JH what he thinks about playing with his old college mate.

    • Heeeeere’s Johnny

      I feel you are dramatically inflating who Kevin Hayes is. He scores more like Mikael Backlund and has possession stats more like Mark Jankowski. How does that make him our first line centre? I love that he is a big body, but he averages less than a hit a game (although twice as many as Mony). As much as I (currently) hate the prick I think Nazem Kadri is a better fit and could be had for a straight up swap with TJ Brodie.

      • withachance

        I think I could say the same about Lindholm before he came. He’s never had premier linemates until WPG and even then it was a slumping Laine and Ehlers.

        Im not even sure if Kadri is available, but a Brodie for Kadri trade would obviously be a better fit

    • freethe flames

      Hayes was supposed to help the Jets get to the promised land and that did not work out. Everything you say about him is true and I have been on the band wagon of bringing him in before but his play off performance has me wondering. Unless BT can unload Neal I just don’t see how we can afford Hayes. Again he is LHS that plays his offwing side and a little center ice. I would rather the Flames look at acquiring Zibby from the NYR or even your suggestion of Andrew Shaw form the Habs as part of a Brodie deal. Lots of others out there if we acquired might flourish with the Jonny/Monny bump as well.

      The question is what do we want from a guy who might come here and play with Johnny/Monny. I want a guy who can skate, play with some edge, helps the unit defensively and can score 20 plus goals with these guys. A RH Ferland.

    • Baalzamon

      Hayes has never been a play driver. This past season was not typical for him at all. He’s typically an extremely mediocre possession player with high on-ice percentages that lead to inflated offensive totals that are usually comparable to those posted by Backlund who also, you know, plays defense (basically, Hayes is usually exactly what he was after the trade to Winnipeg). The first 50 games of this season may have been a breakout for him. But that doesn’t mean that he could be the Lindholm of next season (Lindholm was always a strong possession player with bad percentages, literally the opposite of Hayes. He’s also more physical than Hayes, btw).

      I promise you Hayes is not an upgrade over Backlund.

    • Loud_voices

      I don’t like this simply for the fact that it’s more of a risk than anything. Yeah there’s a chance he turns into a stud playing in our top 6, but there’s also a chance he doesn’t do anything and falls into that sometimes affective/ sometimes invisible mindset…. that same 3rd line category as half our team fits in right now. And you can’t pay a guy the same as your top players when he hasn’t even been anywhere near as talented. James Neal had more worth than Hayes (at least when we signed him he did) and we got him for 5.75… if we spent anymore than 5 on him it would be wasted money, at least in my opinion. I feel we should focus on getting the people we have going, rather than trying to add additional players. This team has the depth to go far, they just need to figure things out. Every move you make slows things down and players have to re-build chemistry with linemates and learn each others style of play… Yeah there’s always a chance you see instant improvement in the team but its generally rare.

  • Flaming Duck

    Seems like he has been a Flame forever. At least he is not injured as often as he was earlier in his career. Not sure where I stand on the 2c vs 3c debate, but I am a Backlund fan as he has been through thick and thin with this team. Here’s hoping he maintains his current level of play for the last five years of his contract.

  • freethe flames

    Backs had a bounce back year offensively but like almost everyone else struggled in the playoffs. His role should be to play tough minutes against the other teams top players and kill penalties; anything after that should be seen as gravy. Recently we talked about moving Lindholm away from the Johnny/Monny pairing and back to center which I would be in favour of if he is paired with Tkachuk. That would slot Backs as the 3rd center and I would pair him with Bennett, more speed on a checking line. I fully expect that Frolik will be moved and could be replaced by Dube. A line of Bennett/Backs/Dube would have the potential to be an effective 3rd line that could shut down top lines; the only problem with this line is that it lacks a RHS but that is an organizational issue.

  • Joel Ottos Jock

    Imagine if Backlund was slotted properly..was the top shut down center. (Third line) No PP time, and plenty of PK time. This is the issue with no depth, and mis management of players. Time to get Tkachuk away from Backlund and especially Frolik. The Flames are hurting Tkachuk playing on that 3M line.

  • Off the wall

    Backlund is a beauty!

    Unrelated, but that St Louis game was a real nail-biter. 2nd OT and Maroon gets the winner. Heck of a shot by Bozak though.

    I only caught the end of the 3rd period onward, however watching the Blues, it’s apparent they were the better team. There were no Corsi shots at the net. They cycled the puck relentlessly, tiring out the Dallas team. If you want to be in the playoffs, that’s how you win. Forechecking!

    We need to take a page from the Blues. I wonder if Maroon will be signed for another year now. He cycles the puck so well for a big body.

    Bishop stood on his head. Over 50+ shots. He was exhausted.

    Go Avalanche. I’d rather see the Avalanche vs the Blues wouldn’t you?

    • Off the wall

      Can Bennett become our Brayden Schenn?

      Bennett playoffs- 20 games, 6 goals, 5 assists, 11 points!
      If we could tap into the Bennett playoff performer, it might work?!

      • Flameon13

        Hoping playoff Benny was break out Benny and next season he starts scoring like a top 6 forward and if he does then try him back at center and see where that goes. If we don’t go out and get ourselves a good 1st/2nd line center that is.

  • Oil Spilly

    Under contract for 5 more years?!?!?!?! Didn’t realize backs will be 35 when this deal is up. That’s 5 more years of listening to sir Greatness WW telling us what a bad contract this is. Cant disagree.

        • fretsey

          The great Gio sucked-no leadership, JG was a non factor tossing pucks to anyone but his linemates. Chuckles vanished. The entire team is built for the NoHitLeague regular season,no interference,no hooking/holding, no checking/pinning to the boards. Backlund isn’t the issue…like..at all. We need half a dozen 6’2″+,220lbs+ players.
          Fun Fact: JG fractures his finger and gets 6 weeks off 2 years ago(?) and Monny had 2 hernias,a blown groin,wrist that needed reconstructive surgery and recently had a fractured thumb-didn’t miss a shift…so…do continue to bash a center we drafted and threw on the top line as a kid with an inadequately built team.

    • SeanCharles

      I don’t agree but I will say Backlund had a bad series.. everyone who craps on Monahan forget how many stick infraction penalties Backs took, which to me says he was caught out of position/behind the play and was trying to use his stick to offset it.

      The whole team outside of a handful of guys sucked.

    • Em Durp Em Hrudey

      Agreed. He stunk like a warm cup of monkey piss. Stupid penalties at costly times and lazy on the back check leading to two clinching goals. 5 more years of this boat anchor Stajan 2.0 contract. Trash away but its the truth. Over paid and way over rated by flames nation.

      • Jon Moxley

        I for one have never indulged in taking a wiff of a warm cup of monkey piss, but one can imagine it would resemble the stench being emitted on the mens room floor at 3 am from a jive disco. Your analogy is interesting Mr.Durp and I must say his lazy style penalties are starting to outweigh his “defensive” capabilities. 5 years at his cap hit will no doubt hinder this team more than help it. Backlund is not what most make him out to be. He is at best a third line center and I actually would place Ryan above him. Back up the garbage truck, I feel some trashes a commin!

      • SeanCharles

        I didnt say I dont like him and want him on the team. I also in no way think he is an anchor of any kind.

        Just saying he had a bad series too.

        He is nowhere near Stajan territory.

        • Jon Moxley

          I do believe Mr.Durp was replying to The great WW and not you kind sir. They seem to share a rather mutual disliking for Mr.Backlund. The Stajan comparison as I understand from a previous post has more to do with an overpaid contract rather than his style of play, although both do and did take needless boneheaded penalties that placed their team in unpleasant situations. Now go drink some “monkey piss”!!

  • Vinnsanity0412

    He is NOT a 2C on a true playoff contender. If he were to slot as a 3C, that means that is a team with some true depth. Matt Duchene, anyone? Bump Mony to 2C, Backs to 3C where he belongs.

    • Loud_voices

      Backlund plays against the top lines in a shutdown role and still manages offensive output. I have no idea how you figure he’s a 3rd liner… I would take Backlund over 75% of the league’s 2cs.
      The only teams that have a better 2c than Backlund, are teams that have 2 – 1cs (Tavares, Matthews) (draisatl, McDavid) (Crosby, Malkin) (Barkov, trocheck) (Pavelski, Couture) and even at that, half the Guys on the list are no where near as defensively capable as Backlund. Even NHL.com had our 2nd line rated at 11th in the league. It wouldn’t have been ranked 11th if we had a 3c playing 2c.

      • Joel Ottos Jock

        Really? Columbus, Duchene and Dubois. Washington, Kuznetsov and Backstrom. Boston, Krejci and Bergeron. Tampa, Johnson, Stamkos and Point. The list goes on of better top 2 centers. Backlund is not a top 6 guy.

        • Loud_voices

          Joel, I didn’t say they were the best 2nd line in the league nor did I say the pairs I named were the only ones better, like I stated above NHL.com had them ranked 11th. Backlund is definitely a top 6 guy. 125th in the league in points which puts roughly 4 people per team better than him, which means he’s a perfect #2 (if you take into account 3 1st line forwards +#1 defencemen).
          Also Point and Dubois have just emerged as top centres who are still on their entry level deals And Duchene was a deadline trade chip that they won’t even be able to keep so I don’t really think they apply because I’m not willing to fire sell to barely upgrade our team…..

          Flameon13 Backlund has been consistently what he is basically since he came into the league, if he has benefitted from chucky, it’s almost unnoticeable. It was about staying healthy for Backlund. I laugh that you think it’s as simple as replacing him with a Kadri or a Zibanejad. Neither player even comes close to being as defensively sounds as Backlund who repeatedly is compared to Bergeron and applauded for his 2 way ability. Not only that, they are barely even an upgrade offensively. Kadri is basically on par while Zibanejad is barely an upgrade who spent the whole year playing a top line role And finally had a breakout season With 74 in 82. You would over pay for him and theres a chance he won’t even improve the team.. there’s also a chance he makes the team worse because it doesn’t matter how many goals you are scoring if more goals are being scored against you.

      • Flameon13

        Backstrom and Kuznetsov, Point and Stamkos, Bergeron and Krejci, Scheifele and Hayes, Giroux and Couturier. Though Mcdavid and Draisatl wasn’t their 1-2 I still would say Mcdavid and Nuge were still a better 1-2 than ours.
        Don’t get me wrong I love Backlund, but has been benefitting quite a lot from playing with Chucky. Away from Chucky I would expect his point totals in the mid 30s say. A Kadri gets 60 odd points next to Chucky and a Zibanejad gets 80 odd next to Chucky. His offensive skill does not even closely match his defensive skill. Which moderate scoring and good defensive play is what you expect from your third line center.

        • Flameon13

          For comparison Derek Ryan, our 4th line center, scored 38 points (away from Chucky) and played often in a shut down role. Not a huge point difference between the two for the difference in teammates and TOI.

          • Loud_voices

            Backlunds points haven’t really changed with or without chucky…. Just look at his stats he’s been basically a half a point per game player for 7 years now.

            Derek Ryan is Technically our 3rd c while Janko is 4th although their ice times are pretty similar. and Derek Ryan is a really good player who was never drafted and didn’t play in the NHL until he was 29, if he had been drafted and was playing in the NHL at an early age he would be more like a solid #2 even probably push for top line minutes… That’s why Bill Peters got them to bring him in.

        • Baalzamon

          Away from Chucky I would expect his point totals in the mid 30s say.

          You do realize Backlund had 47 points the year before Tkachuk joined the team right? He hasn’t scored below a 0.5 PPG pace in seven years.

          You can claim that Backlund would get 30 points without Tkachuk all you like, but the evidence says he’d get 40+. Just like he gets with Tkachuk.

          • Flameon13

            He also shot 4% higher than his career average that year. Since he started playing with Chucky he his amount of SOG has also increased meaning more chances are being generated now with Chucky on his line.

    • Puck Head

      Monahan is not a 2C on a true playoff contender. Our top 2 centres need to drive the play on those lines. Monahan is a one-dimensional passenger. He has to go if this team wants to be successful in the playoffs. Moving him to the wing would not solve anything because he is too soft.

      We need a 1C and 2C (maybe Lindholm but I don’t think so) with Backs a highly payed 3C. It’s a tall order to fill.

      • Loud_voices

        Flames fans are the worst… I just have to say that… When stuff doesn’t go how you want it, you all turn into big babies and start complaining about how the team sucks and how we need to completely dismantle the team and start over…. It’s like everyone completely forgot that we were a bubble team going into this season… So many people weren’t even sure if they would make the playoffs… The flames broke or tied so many personal/team/franchise records this year, and they took a massive step forward. We should be looking at this season as good things to come and that clearly we are going in the right direction. The only team in the entire NHL with a better record than us this year got swept in 4…….. At least we won 1…..
        Do you think Tampa fans are calling for a fire sell and saying Kucherov chokes in the playoffs and that he’s like a 3nd liner at best….?

        • Puck Head

          It has nothing to do with being a good or bad fan. In life, business etc. if you do something and fail you need to fix it. My concern is that we are too soft and not built for the playoffs. If you want to proceed with the same basic roster we are screwed. Monahan is not a top tier centre man. It’s as simple as that. I want the team to be successful and not a pushover team. True tip line centres step up their games when the going gets tough.

          • Loud_voices

            Not believing in the team that’s in front of you kinda makes you a bad fan. Yeah exactly you make adjustments based on where you lacked .. you don’t just get rid of players because you have a bad opinion of one. This roster was basically 50% new and had never played with eachother before. They did some good things and did some bad, so you adjust and reset for next year…. You don’t trade away all of your top talent because you’re sour at how they performed over 5 games…. look at the contrast in hamonic’s play from season 1 with the flames to season 2… He was lights out in his second year oppose to his first year where he was horrible… Why is that? Because he knew his role and made the proper adjustments. Could this team use some more grit? Absolutely but trading away one of your best player while insisting he’s not a top notch player… That’s foolish and definitely an over reaction. The team finished with 107 points this year and made the playoffs…. That’s a 23+ point difference from the previous year… How do you not see that as a massive, positive step forward? “True top line centers step up their game when the going gets tough”…. ALL NHL PLAYERS STEP UP WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH .. THAT’S WHY THEY ARE IN THE NHL…. i think what you were meaning to say is true superstars push to another level when the game is on the line… But every superstar will tell you it takes a whole team… If one player could win the cup, Gretzky would have a cup for every year he played hockey.

  • Loud_voices

    Backlund the best 2c we could ask for. He plays against all of the top lines and still manages to be offensively affective while doing so. I’ve been a Backlund fan for at least 5 years now. He’s just a smart, hardworking player.

      • Loud_voices

        Most teams 3rd line role is a wear down attack role. High energy, high speed, lots of grit. Generates some scoring depth but not 50 points worth. If your 3rd liner is scoring 50 points or more, then they aren’t a 3rd line. Backlund was 125th in points which means on average there are 4 players per team with more points than backlund which puts him right into that 2nd line category. But if you want to look at the other side of it, meaning his defensive abilities as a centre, he ranks with the best in the league. Backlund was 4th in the league in +/- while majority of the time playing against the best that other teams have to offer. That is impressive and indisputably makes him a 2c

  • BendingCorners

    Backlund is a good two-way C but his performance will start to decline and may have already, a bit. The Flames will need another top 6 C because of this within the next 2 or 3 years.
    Kevin Hayes is not it – I think he will sign with Boston which is cloae to home.

  • freethe flames

    Slotting players in the proper role is essential and surrounding them with complementary players to achieve that role is crucial. If you look at what we currently have and try and slot players in their best role then you you can move forward. Don’t put players in roles where they can’t/won’t succeed and then blame them when they fail to live up to your expectations.
    So what is Monny: a goal scorer; he does not drive play with his skating and is not a defensive specialist. He needs to play with a guy who drives play and is a dynamic offensive player; hence Johnny. What is needed on that line is a guy who drives play by his skating, finish(@20goals) and plays with a little edge to his game.(RHS who can take faceoffs)

    Tkachuk is methodical player with a bit of an edge to his game and he needs to play with a good skating and patient center and I think Lindholm would be a good center for him. The third on that line needs again to be a guy who can skate well and play with an edge and has some ability to finish. Again in the perfect world it would be a RHS who can help in the face offs.

    Slotting Backs as defensive center would work as long as his linemates can skate and play some D. Personally I would love to see Bennett on his left but again we don’t have a RHS to play on the right. It could be Dube as he skates well enough and has a bit of an edge to his game.

    The other defensive line could be pretty solid with Ryan at center flanked on the left with Janko(help on the dot) and the physical edging guy being Hathaway.

    That leaves us wondering what the role of Mangiapane would be, Czarnik and Neal. If Mangiapane was RH I would give him a shot with Tkachuk and Lindy as he has a little sand paper in his game. Czarnik is a RHS but does not have much sandpaper in his game and the Neal we saw lat year cannot play any of the unfilled spots.

    So who is out there that could help fill these roles. Like many I would love Zibby out of NYR but I think it would veru costly; think 2/3 young NHLers; a package like this one of Janko/Bennett, one of Dube/Mangiapane and one of Valimaki/Andersson and I don’t think I would pay that price.
    FA that I would consider are Donskoi 37 points last year, Connolly 46 points last year. I would also look at some guys who under performed last year due to injuries like Amira and Noessen guys who might see a big bump playing further up the lineup and won’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire.

    • BendingCorners

      I like this summary. If the Flames can’t get the right forwards maybe they need to look at five man units with the D pinching to fill a role in the offensive zone?

  • Sterls

    This whole 2c/3c center arguement is essentially moot. The one thing every one seems to agree on is that Backlund needs to play against the other teams top line in a defensive role. So by sheer virtue of having to take on that role, he has to play 2nd line minutes. You can call his line the third line, but if he has to match the top line he will always play more than the 2c.

  • Juan Valdez

    Players that don’t show up at critical junctures and have inflated stats due to playing weaker opponents within the Pacific division:
    – Backlund
    – Monahan
    – Brodie

    • Loud_voices

      You do realize Calgary lost more in the Pacific than any other division right? The Metro I believe is by far the hardest division and Calgary went 13-2-1 this year….
      If you had just taken 5 minutes to do your proper research you would see that all 3 of these players came in clutch all year. It just takes a Google search… It’s not really that hard

  • Smittyballs

    Has anyone thought about any trade options for say Sean Couturier as Philly is open for business. What would it take? If Brodie can bring back some good picks if he were to go, would sacrificing say Hanifin be worth it and placing Vali on a second pairing be worth it? Be interested only thoughts on that.

    • Speed Kills

      I’ve been following the Flyers for that exact reason… Unfortunately it seems Their GM Chuck Fletcher, Truly believes they are just a couple of players way from contending and since they just hired Alain Vigneault as their New Coach, I’d say so.
      It looks like Fletcher has a desire to bring in some veteran talent for the blue line and some depth at center to slot in between the Couturier line and the Nolan Patrick one. While Dumping older $$$-Vets to do that. At least that is what the plan seems to be for now. Flames will have to find a #1 center with a good $$$ Somewhere else.

  • Dunk

    Backlund will always struggle in the playoffs. He is too soft. His best hit is the fly bye. Or I will pretend to try and beat you to the puck…
    Get rid of him