The FAN 960 Flames Zone

Being a former first round draft pick, the expectations on Mikael Backlund are higher than they might be on other pending restricted free agents.  Even though the 2011/2012 season had it’s difficult moments for Backlund, I think there are a lot of postives to look forward to in the coming years.

Mikael Backlund, 23 , 6’0, 190 pounds, drafted round 1 (24th overall) 2007 NHL Entry Draft
2011/2012 totals: 41 GP, 4 G, 7 A, 11 P, 16 PIM, -13
2011/2012 cap hit: $1.271 million

Pros

In my eyes, Backlund was one of Calgary’s most effective centers last year.  I know some will disagree with that, but among Flames pivots, he spent more time in the offensive zone than most Flames forwards despite being deployed more often defensively.  Backlund started shifts in the offensive zone just 44.6% of the time which was the second lowest total among regular Flames forwards.  Despite that, he was one of just three forwards on the team to finish with a positive shot rate.  When tracking all shots put towards the net for and against, Backlund finished with a 1.91 rating which tells you one thing: even though he started more shifts inside his own blueline, he spent more time at the right end of the ice.  I saw Backlund do a good job with his positioning to affect the play out of his own zone and I saw him work a strong cycle once the puck was in the offensive zone.  Being a positive possession player at center and at 23 years of age is impressive, and I thought there were some nice steps taken last year.

Backlund also ran into some bad luck last year, and I’ll explain why that falls into the “pro” category.  Realistically, a player who spends some of the most time in the offensive zone on the team should have put up higher point totals than 11 points in 41 games.  However, Backlund was perhaps the unluckiest Flames forward this year, because he was in on a lot of scoring chances and in fact had one of the higher positive chance ratios on the team.  The unlucky factor comes when looking at Backlund’s shooting percentage, which finished at 4.7%, more than two percentage points lower than the year before.  Considering the league average hovers just under 9%, it’s fair to say there was some bad luck that played into his low totals, not just him being a “bad shooter”.

On top of that, Backlund’s on-ice shooting percentage finished at 5.28%, another well-below-average total that is a little more telling.  The on-ice number totals the percentage of all shots taken by Flames players on the ice, meaning the percentages worked against him in a big way; nobody seemed to score when he was on the ice, which truly is bad luck.  You almost always see those numbers improve to the league norm, and his percentages will almost certainly come up next season, which means so will his point totals if he keeps up the trend of being a positive possession player.

Another positive is Backlund’s age.  He’s 23 years old and will be for the majority of the 2012/2013 season, so there’s still plenty of growth room there.  A forward typically enters his prime starting at 26 or 27, so knowing he’s got three or four years before that happens, there’s some good potential down the road.  Re-signing him will also be affordable, as Backlund’s low counting numbers won’t put him in line for a huge raise.  Just like Blair Jones, he’s an NHL center who can help you right now but also won’t affect your cap in a prohibitive way.

Cons

To be honest, I don’t see a lot of cons with him as I’m a huge, huge fan.  I don’t know if you can put “unrealistic expectations” into this category, but it’s certainly something that has played against him at times.  Because he was a first round pick, some have certain marks that he should be hitting in terms of goals and points.  But to me, Backlund is, and always will be, defined by more than his points.  He’s a center that can play tough minutes at both ends of the ice, but I don’t think we’re talking about the team’s top end point scoring pivot for years to come.  And that’s okay.  David Legwand was a #2 overall pick in 1998 and has never put up the point totals of other top two picks, but he’s been absolutely vital to the success of the Nashville Predators, much the same way I see Backlund being to the Flames.  So, I guess the drawback would be Backlund’s upside in terms of actual points.  50-60 points I think is attainable, but 80-90 is probably not realistic.

There’s also a slight worry about Backlund being injury prone, which I can somewhat understand.  He suffered a finger injury in training camp that kept him out a big chunk at the start of the regular season.  Then, in February, he suffered a shoulder injury against the Vancouver Canucks that knocked him out for the final 26 games of the regular season.  It’s important to point out, however, that this was the first injury riddled season he’s had; Backlund played 74 games during the 2010/2011 season, and 77 the year before.

Verdict

I don’t think there’s any question.  The Flames need to re-sign Backlund for myriad reasons.  First, they don’t have the luxury of not bringing back 23 year old forwards who have proven they can play in the NHL on a regular basis.  He’s improved in his two full seasons with Calgary and I only see that improvement continuing with him still being at a very young age.  His bad luck last season points to two postive things: first, an affordable contract and, second, much higher totals next year.  Finally, he is a restricted free agent, so he’s also a controllable asset; you don’t let players walk in this situation.  Backlund was one of Calgary’s most effective centers last year so I don’t see any reason why the Flames wouldn’t bring him back.

15 Responses to “RFA Profile: Mikael Backlund”
  1. 1.

    Resign him still young and has learning to do and won’t command major $. Didn’t hit his full potential this past yr but was injured for a majority of it.

    - Jenn
  2. 2.

    Backlund is the Flames best centre, and hes 23 so everyone please quit saying hes a bust and remember this blog is the absolute truth.

    - john
  3. 3.

    Having a center that can be effective 5on5, PP and PK is hard to come by. He has a lot more skill than he shows and will be a solid 2 way player for years to come. He also needs to play with better line mates, he was usually stuck with grinders. I’d like to see him, Moss and Baerstchi on the 3rd or 2nd line. Give him a skill guy to play with and his numbers will go up. Sven is a sniper and they both play hard and their play styles will compliment each other; Moss can play with anyone but having another center on that line will be benefit.

    - Nathan
  4. 4.

    @Jenn

    There’s no reason to even consider letting Backlund go elsewhere unless it’s a part of a major trade that will improve the team.

    - Pat Steinberg
  5. 5.

    @john

    I firmly believe the people who were cracking Backlund and calling him a bust last season will be eating their words when they see how important he is to the Flames 5 years from now.

    - Pat Steinberg
  6. 6.

    @Nathan

    I’d like to see Backlund given the high ground this year, in that, I’d like to see him play with offensively tailored linemates put in offensive situations. We know he can get the job done in tough situations and he can play the two way game effectively. But why not give him a season to boost his confidence; use him offensively more than you have, let him put up better point totals.

    - Pat Steinberg
  7. 7.

    Agree 100% with @john.

    I’ve always been a fan of Backlund, even before I learned the importance of possession numbers and CORSI stats. He’s got tons of skill and smarts. Even when he dumps the puck in, he doesn’t just shoot it around the boards, he actually aims for the corner and doesn’t put too much heat on it so it doesn’t rebound right back into play. He understands possession, Flames should sign him for 3 to 4 years if possible.

    As for his injuries this year, the first one was a total freak injury and the second one came in a heated game against Vancouver when instead of shying away from Alberts, he got right into it with him despite giving up 5 inches and 20 lbs. He lost the battle and got injured, but I like the fight in the kid.

    - loudogYYC
  8. 8.

    @loudogYYC

    Exactly, Backlund understands the value of possessing the puck. Unfortunately, it’s a trait that isn’t all that plentiful with the Flames right now. And even though his point totals don’t suggest it, he actually was one of the better Flames forwards turning positive possession into scoring chances. He was in the vast minority of players being positive possession wise, but the fact scoring chances also came as a result is an added positive.

    As for injuries, I don’t think this season is a true indicator of what he is. He’s been nothing but durable before.

    - Pat Steinberg
  9. 9.

    He had a brutal 2011/2012 where injuries were concerned. Broken hand or finger then the arm. I would consider the shooting percentage a result of the injury, not his ability. I say Keep him on and give him more PK/PP time.

    - Cary
  10. 10.

    Flames fans should be glad to have a guy like Backlund in their organization. The kid is really good and shows geeat enthusiam and energy on each shift. I do believe the Flames aren’t using him at his full potential. The kid should be on a scoring line and not on a shutdown line. Basically, re-sign only if you plan on unleashing his offensive talent.

    - Christian
  11. 11.

    @Cary

    I think that’s a fair point too, Cary. I really don’t believe that shooting percentage was a result of lack of ability at all. The injury might have played into it, but no doubt bad luck also had it’s affect.

    - Pat Steinberg
  12. 12.

    @Christian

    I can tell you that Backlund is one of the most eager guys on that team. He wants to improve, he wants to do everything to help the team win, and he wants to be the best player he can be. He also wants to do all of this with the Flames. He’ll play any role he’s asked, and he’ll do all he can to help the team…that’s a quality that you want.

    - Pat Steinberg
  13. 13.

    Then the Flames should resign him and perhaps think about giving him a letter down the road. Calgary has somethingvthat other teams would love to have. Let’s just hope the injury bug stsys away from him because we all know how it can destroy a talented player’s career. Best of luck to Backlund and the Flames next season. Being a Habs fan, i will keep on licking my wounds and hope that Bergevin can pull it out! Backlund to Montreal? LOL Have a good one buddy, you’re show rocks. Keep up the good work.

    - Christian
  14. 14.

    @Christian

    Thanks man! I just think it’s far too early to say he’s injury prone; he’s had one bad season and that’s it. It’s a little too early to say one way or another.

    - Pat Steinberg
  15. 15.

    No doubt Calgary will re-sign him. While last season was a write-off due to injuries, I thought when he was in the line-up, he provided plenty of speed, grit and competed hard for the puck. Prior to his season ending injury I thought he was just starting to find his groove and confidence. Hopefully his injury woes are behind him. Calgary has a glaring need for skill and leadership in their line-up, and now is the time for Backlund to take the opportunity to shine.

    - Frank N.
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