In the Darryl Sutter era – young players and prospects were generally dealt with in the exact same, unfortunate manner. You were valued, if not overvalued – to a point.
Step 1) A player was drafted, and then instantly overvalued by the organization.
Step 2) Said player, regardless of projection, was not given a decent chance at the NHL level because of the “win-now” veteran mentalty.
Step 3) Said prospect turns into a bust – but because of the initial pride, arrogance, and over-valuation, that same player was re-signed or extended, and left to rot on the farm. What a disaster.
Everyone from Boyd to Chucko to Pelech to Prust were either shipped out, not developed properly, or just didn’t have it in the first place.
The good news Flames fans – is this: Times are changing.
It’s a long road ahead, but the team is drafting better, giving youngsters more of a chance to play with the big club – and that’s something that resonates, especially with undrafted free agents.
A challenge for this team, and with a number of teams in the NHL – is managing the 50-contract limit. When Darryl Sutter handed out useless extensions to already-failed projects in the past, it meant the ability to infuse new blood, or scour non-traditional venues for talent was almost nil.
Point is: if you’re going to be proactive from a prospect and player development angle, you have to be quicker off the draw to evaluate and make decisions on players. For example – under the old regime, John Negrin would have been extended, because he was a third-round draft pick, and god-forbid Darryl Sutter would ever admit a mistake.
In this case, under the new regime, Negrin was deemed to not be a prt of the future, and was sent on his way. A new player, a new challenge, and a new project comes in.
When the evaluation period is expediated – it brings to the forefront the name MIKAEL BACKLUND
Any flames fan would admit – there hasn’t been a long list of prospects-turned NHL’ers to get excited about in a long, long time. And maybe that’s why there were such high expectations and pressure on Backlund – who like it or not, was heralded as a future STAR on this team. You always want to show a certain element of patience with youngsters, especially first-rounders, but not to a fault.
The truth is – Mikael Backlund’s career rope is officially getting shorter. He’s not at the end of it yet, but at this rate, if he hasn’t progressed 365 days from now? It’s over.
Backlund, despite loads of ice time and opportunity, has 4 goals, 11 points and is a -14. Backlund is at a point in his career and skill-set where he NEEDS to contribute for his team to be succesful. At the present time, the Flames are riding the quartet of Iginla – Cammalleri – Tanguay- Jokinen. There is no reason, ABSOLUTELY NONE, that Backlund shouldn’t be this team’s fifth best forward. Right now, the tag is bestowed upon Blair Jones. Backlund can’t let that happen, but he has.
There have been arguments from the “advanced stats” crowd, pursuing the notion that Backlund has been “better than his numbers indicate”. He’s simply “unlucky”. That’s all well and good, but I’m prone to side with Flames management, namely Craig Conroy, who said in studio with us Tuesday that Backlund quite simply needs to produce – because right now, he looks like a career third liner.
Admittedly, this comes off as very harsh on Mikael Backlund, but up until now, he’s had a lot of rope in my eyes. Under the new “order” a line has to be drawn in the sand. The free ride has to end sometime. Decisions on players need to be made quicker, and as Conroy puts it “with more conviction”.
That time is quickly approaching for Backlund.
Comparisons are a risky game – but being nearly 23 years old, it’s only fair to put Backlund up against his 2007 Draft Class.
Using the first round as an example:
- 12 of the 30 players taken in ’07 have established themselves as “difference makers” at the NHL level. Backlund is not in that mix. (Kane, JVR, Turris, Alzner, Gagner, Blum,Voracek, Couture, Sutter, Shattenkirk, Pacioretty, Perron)
The other six are in the “undecided category” (Backlund, Ellerby, McDonagh, Smith, Cole, Eller) Although to be fair, Eller (MON) and McDonagh (NYR) are closer to the top group.
Another Six of 30 are complete busts – (Hamill, Macmillan, Esposito, Nash, White, Ross)
Five of 30 are “likely busts” or low end NHL’ers who will not reach initial hopes. (Hickey, Plante, Petrecki, Gillies, O’Brien) and of course one - regrettably, is deceased in Alexei Cherepanov.
- Every player is different, and just because guys like Couture and Sutter are impact players, doesn’t mean Backlund is – but my point is…enough time has passed. Most of all the full-time NHL guys are in roles of respnsibility, while the ones who aren’t good enough, have already been shuttled off.
Backlund, like it or not – is closer to the Hickey’s of the world than he is to the Perron’s, and continues to be entrenched in a middling situation. People beleive in his “potential” but he doesn’t produce. This is a dangerous spot to be in for any team – and the quicker a decision is made on backlund, the better off everyone will be.
It’s not over for him yet, but the clock is ticking.