If Mikael Backlund is available, the Leafs should pursue him

Cam Charron
July 05 2012 08:12AM

Reminder, Jonas Gustavsson will make $3M over the next two seasons in Detroit.

Some interesting possibilities. Sometimes teams get handicapped with a lot of clutter toward the back of their roster, and some good players get forced out. Yesterday, the Calgary Flames signed Akim Aliu and Paul Byron, who are, by my count, the 45th and 46th out of a possible 50 contracts for the Flames. Aliu's deal also makes him the 13th forward with an NHL contract for the Flames.

Remaining unsigned is former first-round pick Mikael Backlund, a centreman with 15 goals in his 138-game NHL career. He had 11 points in 41 games last year. I think he would be an exceptional candidate for the Toronto Maple Leafs' first line.

From Kent Wilson's FlamesNation.ca piece (linked above) discussing the two signings yesterday:

That leaves just a couple of notable RFA's hanging: Mikael Backlund and Leland Irving. Backlund is obviously the most interesting Flame still without a contract. His poor season last year in terms of health and counting numbers may be contributing to a hesistance on the team's part to commit more dollars and time to the player. He's a 23-year, skilled forward with an undetermined ceiling in line for a rebound, but he's also been rumored as trade bait. The longer this drags on, the less likely it seems he'll be sticking around the Flames organization.

Kent is less than optimistic that the Flames will end up with Backlund. And why would the Flames want him? After all, he's been less than effective offensively, with forwards drafted around his level in the 2007 draft, David Perron and Max Pacioretty, strong offensive contributors in the NHL.

Here's the thing though: the Leafs need a first line centreman in between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Kessel and Lupul aren't exactly the most stellar defensive players. Backlund can do two things: play centre, and play defence. The rest doesn't matter too much:

  Corsi Rel Corsi Rel QoC Ozone%
2012 11.7 (1st) 1.249 (4th) 44.6% (2nd)
2011 15.2 (2nd) -.168 (11th) 54.3% (11th)

[Behind The Net]

With tougher minutes in the 2012 campaign, Backlund's scoring dropped from .34 points per game to .27, but possession was still pretty good.

I see Backlund as a guy who can play extremely well in the defensive zone. He's not a good faceoff guy yet, having gone below 50% in each of the last two seasons, but that hasn't done too much to effect possession numbers. Kessel and Lupul are two guys who like to get it done off the rush. They aren't exactly possession players who need to start with the puck in their zone. Backlund is a guy who can play closer to the Leafs' net, get the puck forward to Kessel who carries it through the neutral zone.

Backlund makes players better. Lupul and Kessel are pretty poor possession players. Check out how Backlund's top two linemates over the last two seasons, Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, fared with and without Backlund:

  CF/20 CA/20 Poss. Rate
Iginla w Backlund 19.3 17.4 52.6%
Iginla w/o Backlund 16.6 18.6 47.2%
Tanguay w Backlund 19.2 15.9 54.7%
Tanguay w/o Backlund 16.6 18.7 47.0%

[Hockey Analysis]

CF/20 and CA/20 refer to 'Corsi Events For' and 'Corsi Events Against' per 20 minutes of play. A Corsi event is any goal, saved shot, blocked shot or missed shot at even strength. The possession rate is calculated simply: CF / CF + CA. Both Iginla and Tanguay were better defensively and offensively with Backlund in the lineup. Some of that is, I'm sure, due to the easier minutes in the 2011 campaign, but in 2012, Backlund made Lee Stempniak, already a good possession player without Backlund at 52%, a 56% player. Iginla went from 45% to 49% with Backlund in the middle.

Whatever the reason, players are better off next to Backlund. Question 2, is he available? Two tweets:

Followed by this from this morning:

Do the Flames understand how valuable Backlund is to the team? Maybe, maybe not. If the contract negotiations turn sour at any point, who knows how much patience the Flames will exhibit, given how much they already have committed to forwards. This is just one of those times where a piece or two should be used to swoop up a very good NHL player while he's young. If there is still no news in a week, it is potentially good news for those who like the prospect.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 joeyjoejoejr
July 05 2012, 09:38AM
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First take back Stajan as a sign of good faith. Otherwise, I say we never trade with the Leafs ever again.

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#2 Michael
July 05 2012, 09:58AM
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In contract terms, Backlund is likely going to have to suck it up and sign a short term deal, for a lot less money than he thinks he deserves. At this point he does not have a lot of leverage, he is an RFA, and didn't produce much in the way of offense last year.

The Flames on the otherhand need to be carefull not to sour the relationship, Backlund might be slipping down the depth chart with the recent signings, but he still has potential, and is an interesting asset. The Flames should really sign a longer term deal, even if he 'overpaying' him based on last years production.

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#3 xis10ce
July 05 2012, 10:22AM
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As a aside and a chance to take a bit of a poke at TO (luv U!) while we are talking about connections between the two teams.

As known, Calgary's first rounder this year is Mark Jankowski. His great Uncle is Red Kelly, who the only player to have never played with Montreal Canadians to who won the most Stanley cups at 8. Also he is one of the team members who won the 1967 TO Stanley cup.

hehe 1967...

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#4 Kenta
July 05 2012, 09:13AM
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Backlund for Nazim Kadri.

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#5 Baalzamon
July 05 2012, 09:16AM
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REALLY hope the Flames don't mess this up.

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#6 Kent Wilson
July 05 2012, 09:19AM
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Steinberg says he expects a Backlund contract to be completed today.

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#7 Danny Gray
July 05 2012, 09:26AM
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@Kent Wilson

SIGN AND TRADE!

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#8 NHL93
July 05 2012, 09:40AM
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The idea of this trade made me throw-up in my mouth.

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#9 Ravage
July 05 2012, 09:47AM
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So Cam, IF the Leafs were interested in Backlund...what should the Flames ask/expect in return (In theory)?

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#10 I'm Just Sayin'
July 05 2012, 09:53AM
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Mikael is not going anywhere, especially Toronto.

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#12 negrilcowboy
July 05 2012, 10:06AM
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lmao two lost tribes wondering the nhl desert.

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#13 Burdman
July 05 2012, 10:47AM
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Hmmmm....... Backlund would make a good centre for the Leafs.....good defensively to compensate for more offensive line mates.....makes his line mates better......

Let's see....the Flames need a good centre....have lots of offensive wingers who are suspect defensively......has the player who Backlund supposedly made better.....

If all this is true in what universe does it make sense that they trade him to the Leafs?

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#14 cLyde
July 05 2012, 12:26PM
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@Cam Charron

No, not for B prospects. There is always room to add players if they are better than what you have.

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#15 RexLibris
July 05 2012, 12:44PM
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If Feaster trades Backlund to Toronto I think Kent might spend the summer hiding in a cave.

By the same token, if Backlund finds out he's been traded to Toronto he might want to demand a trade to a more functional team with a brighter future. Like the Islanders maybe.

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#16 Mangotanker
July 05 2012, 01:06PM
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From what I can gather, it seems management (and some fans) might be getting a little fed up with Backlund's scoring touch. Are they playing hardball with him or something? Just sign him already! Although he has good possession numbers and drives play, he hasn't scored a whole lot. As the writers here on FN have previously pointed out before, it seems more of bad luck type of thing ailing him. Eventually, as long as he continues to drive play (and do it against very tough competition), his luck should start to turn.

If they deal him now, they won't get fair value. And its not really fair to give up on a guy in his early 20s just because he's not lighting things up. Backlund is one of only a few guys in the org that is within that valuable age range (22-28) So they should re-sign him (he'll come cheap), and have him play next year.

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#17 albertabeef
July 05 2012, 01:37PM
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Backlund is too young for Calgary's liking. He has to be at least 28 to fit into their plans

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#18 Baalzamon
July 05 2012, 02:32PM
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FLAMES SIGNED BACKLUND!!!!

http://flames.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=637307

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#19 Vowswithin
July 05 2012, 02:41PM
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@Baalzamon

Yuppp!!! 1 yr 1 way $725,000 finally! Up next Irving

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#21 James
July 05 2012, 08:25PM
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They really low-balled backlund with this deal.

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