Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
The Calgary Flames should (eventually) retire Mikael Backlund’s number
By Ryan Pike6 months ago
On March 2, 2024, the Calgary Flames will retire Mikka Kiprusoff’s number 34. When it comes to jersey retirements, there’s no clear-cut requirement that qualifies a player. Generally-speaking, it’s meant to commemorate the individual accomplishments of a key individual in franchise history, and allows the hockey club and its fans to enjoy some good vibes for a few days while retiring a number. It’s part commemorating history, part lifetime achievement award, part marketing event.
He’s still active, and who knows how long he’ll keep playing, but the Flames should eventually retire Mikael Backlund’s number 11.
A product of Vasteras, Sweden, Backlund was the Flames’ first-round pick way back in 2007. He played another season in Sweden before making his NHL debut mid-way through the 2008-09 campaign in odd circumstances. Backlund’s development was stalling in Sweden, and so the Flames opted to sign him and assign him to the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets following the World Juniors in Ottawa. But the Flames were short bodies due to injuries, so Backlund made a stop in Calgary and played a game against the New York Islanders before heading to the Dub.
Backlund went pro the following season and began pushing for NHL duty. He was a full-time NHL forward by 2010-11, playing a bottom-six role, and he gradually added some consistency and offensive pop to his game that increased his role over time. He had a lot of confidence coming back from the 2012-13 lockout, where he was a first-line player with his hometown team in Sweden, and his game began finding another level.
Backlund has only occasionally flirted with first-line duty as a Flame. But you can look at his body of work and notice that, more often than not, his line was both (a) lined up against the other team’s top players in a shutdown role and (b) regularly out-playing and out-scoring those top players. Backlund formed crucial lines with up-and-comers like Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett and Andrew Mangiapane, and his 200-foot prowess helped morph them into reliable scorers.
Much like Robyn Regehr wasn’t the top Flames blueliner of all-time but he played a massively important role, so did Backlund. He’s no Jarome Iginla from an offensive standpoint, but Backlund is probably the top defensive forward in franchise history in terms of his ability to negate and out-perform the other team’s best and brightest. To date, Backlund has received Selke Trophy votes as one of the top five defensive forwards in the NHL in six of the past seven seasons dating back to 2016-17.
If you think about what you want young players to became as Flames, you’d think of Backlund. He’s been honoured multiple times by the organization for his dedication, leadership and humanitarian work, recently being named the recipient of the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Award. He’s one of the club’s longest-serving alternate captains, and is currently third on the club’s all-time leaderboard in games played. He’ll reach second on that list, trailing only Jarome Iginla, if he plays out the last year of his current contract with the club.
Backlund doesn’t boast sexy offensive numbers and he’s no contender for the Hockey Hall of Fame. But in terms of what he means to the Flames franchise on and off the ice, he’s exactly the type of person and player the club should be honouring with a jersey retirement. When his career comes to a close, the Flames should retire number 11.
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