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What should the Calgary Flames do with Mikael Backlund?

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Munnich
9 months ago
Mikael Backlund is coming off one of, if not the best season of his 14 year career with the Calgary Flames. He set single season highs in assists and points and was one of the best players from an analytics perspective.
Backlund has been a mainstay with the Flames franchise and it would be weird to see him in another uniform. But that is a possibility as he is a pending unrestricted free agent next summer.
What should the Flames do with Backlund? Let’s take a look.

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Reasons to keep Backlund 

He can still play at a high level 
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Backlund is showing no signs of slowing down. It actually looks like he is getting better with age.
He is coming off a career high in assists and points. Backlund led the Flames in plus/minus (+24) by a wide margin as the next closet player was Tyler Toffoli at +16. The Flames outscored their opposition 54-34 with Backlund on the ice at 5-on-5. And he was a force on the penalty kill. He takes on the toughest matchups and comes out on top on most nights. And on top of all that, he also makes his linemates better. Everyone has better numbers and results when they play with number 11.
You could make a strong argument that he was the Flames most important player last season.
Leadership
Backlund is a strong leader in a locker room that might not have much of that quality with the departures of Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis. Backlund took a major step forward in terms of leadership last season according to players in the Flames dressing room. And if he is to sign an extension with the Flames, he should be one of the front-runners to become the next captain of the team.
He has played his entire career in Calgary. It would be really cool if he were to be a Flame for life, eclipse the 1,000 game mark with the same team, and captain the team for the next few seasons. That would be a storybook ended for Backlund and the Flames fan base.

He is going to be difficult to replace

Replacing Backlund would be a very difficult task for the next GM of the Flames. I have already stated the reasons for that. There are not many players in the NHL who do what Backlund does. There are not a lot of centremen who can play against the oppositions top players, make their linemates better, play on both sides of special teams, and be the leader of your group.
Backlund has a special skillset that no one in the organization is ready to replace. Kadri is not good enough defensively to replace Backlund. And there are no center prospects in the Flames system who are close to taking over that kind of responsibility.
The Flames would have to over pay for a free agent (the 2023 free agent class is not great) or spend valuable draft capital to bring in a two way centre via trade. Both of those should be non starters for a Flames organization that has traded away way too many draft picks in the Treliving years.

What would an extension look like? 

Here are some comparable contracts for Mikael Backlund.
PlayerContract
Phillip Danault6 Years, $5.5 million AAV
Charlie Coyle6 Years, $5.25 million AAV
Jean-Gabriel Pageau6 Years, $5 million AAV
Ryan Strome5 Years, $5 million AAV
It’s difficult to find comparable for Backlund because there are not a lot of centres who perform at the level Backlund does at the age of 34. All the contracts listed above were signed by players when they were ages 27 or 28 years old. but all four players score at a similar rate to Backlund and all profile as two way centermen.
A realistic extension for Backlund would probably be 3-4 years with an AAV (average annual value) around his current cap hit of $5.35M.

Reasons to trade Backlund

He might want to leave 
Backlund was very non committal about his future with the Flames in his year end interview with the media. There have been rumours that Backlund and his camp have explored the idea of a trade for the last two off-season’s. But that was with Darryl Sutter as the coach. You have to wonder if that’s changed.
But if it hasn’t changed and Backlund wants to be moved, then you have to make that happen by the 2024 trade deadline. Backlund is too valuable of an asset to lose for nothing.
Chase a Stanley Cup 
Backlund has played 10 games past the first round of the playoffs in his entire career. That’s it. Five games against the Ducks in 2015. And five games against the Oilers in 2022.
I would not blame him if he decided it was in his best interest to play for a legitimate Stanley Cup contender for the remaining years of his career. There would be a lot of teams looking for his services. Colorado, Carolina, and Boston are a few teams that come to mind that could be a great fit.

What should the Flames do with Mikael Backlund? 

I think the Flames should try to sign Backlund between now and the 2024 trade deadline and make him the 15th captain in Flames history. I love the idea of having someone start and finish their career with the Flames. He has been an incredible player on the ice and an even better person off the ice. The Flames should embrace that and make him the leader of this franchise for the next 3-5 years.
If he wants to move on then the flames should accommodate that request and trade him to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The Flames would be able to get a strong return in a Backlund trade.
What do you think the Flames should do with Mikael Backlund? Let us know in the comments section! 

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