When I targeted mid-March for our annual countdown of Calgary’s best value contracts, I didn’t think it would encapsulate the entire body of work for the season. As we find ourselves in the strangest of times, though, that’s very likely going to be the case. So, in the spirit of faking normalcy, let’s see if Elias Lindholm has given the Flames the best bang for their buck for a second straight year.
Before we start counting ’em down, here are last year’s top five most valuable contracts. As you’ll see by reading on, only last season’s number one was able to crack the list again.
5. David Rittich
4. Travis Hamonic
3. Mark Giordano
2. Johnny Gaudreau
1. Elias Lindholm
One more caveat: entry level contracts don’t count, which is important. As such, neither Rasmus Andersson nor Dillon Dube were considered.
5. Mikael Backlund
It has been a weird season for Backlund. We saw him get off to a slow start with former head coach Bill Peters before being moved to right wing for two months under Geoff Ward. But, prior to the season shutdown, Backlund was playing his best hockey of the season and perhaps the best of his career.
The uptick started as soon as Backlund was moved back to the middle on a line with Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane on February 8th. The results in the 15 games since have been staggering: ten goals, 21 points, and outstanding five-on-five underlying numbers. All underlying data courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
Since the move back to centre, Backlund’s possession rate is back to his elite standards, while his individual outputs have him sitting number one across the board. We all know how important Backlund is to this team when he’s at his best. Well, in year two of a six-year deal that pays him $5.35 million per, Backlund was very much back to that level. It’s too bad we likely won’t get to see how things finish.
4. Derek Ryan
The more I watch Ryan play, the more I wonder how this guy didn’t make his NHL debut until he was 29. While not physically spectacular in any one area, Ryan is good at everything and thinks the game at a high level. After a month or so getting used to his new surroundings in 2018, Ryan has been as consistent as they come and that has carried over into his second season in Calgary.
No one on the Flames at any position has seen fewer offensive zone starts than Ryan this season, which makes his fancy stats even more impressive. Ryan is outperforming his zone start by almost six percentage points, while he’s a top six player in even strength assists-per-60 (3rd) and points-per-60 (6th). That three-year, $9.375 million dollar Ryan signed looks like one of Calgary’s best UFA deals from the last decade.
3. TJ Brodie
Brodie has his fair share of detractors, and that’s fine. Prior to this season much of the criticism levelled at Brodie was fair, as his play had steadily declined over a two or three year span. This year is a different story, though, as Brodie has enjoyed a resurgence and has been one of Calgary’s best and most consistent defencemen.
With one of the team’s lowest zone start ratios, Brodie’s possession rate is fourth-best on the Flames and second amongst blueliners. He’s done all that spending most of the year on Calgary’s top pairing with Mark Giordano, which means the toughest head-to-head matchups every night. In the final year of a five-year contract, Brodie’s $4.6504 million cap hit once again looks like the slam dunk bargain it was early on.
2. Elias Lindholm
I’m confident Lindholm will be fighting for top spot on this list every year until his current deal expires. Lindholm’s $4.85 million cap hit over six years looked reasonable when he signed up prior to playing a game with the Flames. Almost two years later, it looks like an absolute steal and one of the NHL’s best longterm deals.
With the season paused, Lindholm leads Calgary with 29 goals and sits third at 54 points. We’ve seen Lindholm spend a good chunk of time in a familiar right wing spot with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, including the team’s last 15 games. Prior to that, though, the Flames gave Lindholm a long look as their number one centre, which I still believe is where he’s going to end up down the road.
Regardless of where he’s played, though, Lindholm has been one of Calgary’s two or three best forwards almost every single night. His individual outputs tell that story emphatically.
Lindholm has been the team’s most productive goal scorer this season; he sits number one in both goals-per-60 categories (he’s third in both points-per-60 columns). The guy has a home-run contract and was well on his way to his first 30-goal season (29) prior to the pause. Whenever hockey returns, Lindholm has established himself as a bona fide centrepiece for the Flames going forward.
1. Andrew Mangiapane
Lindholm leads the team in goals, excels in every situation, and costs Calgary less than $5 million per season…and he’s not on top of this list? Well, thanks to the bonkers value Mangiapane is giving the Flames this year, we have a new number one. On a one-year deal at $715,000, Mangiapane meets the criteria to qualify for this list, while his outstanding season earns him top billing.
Mangiapane is a top three player in every one of the five-on-five categories above, including number one in possession, on-ice high danger chances, and points-per-60. It isn’t a stretch to call Mangiapane Calgary’s most complete forward this season, because, well, he pretty much has been. Even better: I really believe Mangiapane is just starting to scratch the surface.
The Flames have an opportunity to get Mangiapane locked up to a nice looking deal here, similar to what they did with Andersson a few months ago. A contract that looks like Andersson’s six-year, $27.3 million pact ($4.55 million AAV) for Mangiapane should be something Calgary is prepared to do. This guy has established himself as a core piece.