The offseason has begun and obviously it could very action packed for the Calgary Flames. With not wanting to repeat last offseason again, the Flames are likely either signing or trading any of their players that are pending free agents in 2024. One of those players is Mikael Backlund.
Backlund has been a part of the Flames organization since 2007 and has played fourteen seasons with the team. Out of those fourteen seasons, Backlund has served as an alternate captain for the most recent five. His experience and leadership has made him the fan favourite for next team captain.
Even with Backlund’s sixteen-year career and display of loyalty to the organization, his future with the team is uncertain. There was reports that last offseason, Backlund requested a trade off the team—obviously the Flames did not fulfill his wish and kept him on the team for this past season. During this year’s exit interviews, he seemed very up in the air about re-signing and didn’t come across as committed compared to some other players. A likely factor into both of these things was his relationship with recently-fired Flames coach, Darryl Sutter as allegedly the two did not get along very well and would often get into yelling matches. Backlund has also brought up wanting to win a Stanley Cup and if he believes the Flames aren’t headed in that direction, he could easily not re-sign.
With Backlund not getting any younger and his future commitment being unclear, is now the time to sell high and trade him?
Reviewing Mikael Backlund’s season
At the age of 34, Mikael Backlund had a career year both statistically and analytically. First looking at the stats, in 82 games, Backlund set a career-high in points and assists, he had 19 goals and 37 assists for 56 points. Those 56 points were good enough to be tied for third on the Flames with Nazem Kadri. Backlund was also in the top 25 league-wide for takeaways.
Backlund’s on-ice metrics
Moving away from the scoresheet, Backlund’s underlying numbers were even better. Here are his stats from NaturalStatTrick.com at 5v5 score- and venue-adjusted.
Backlund set career-highs in CF%, xG%, and xGF/60—so half of the stats listed—which is pretty good. When comparing these numbers to the rest of the Flames forwards, Backlund ranks near the top. In all categories, he ranks in the top three on the team, usually in the top two. When in the top two, if Backlund is not first, the player typically ahead of him is Jakob Pelletier who only played 24 games. So, out of all the Flames regulars, Backlund is the highest ranked in most.
Not only is Backlund placed high on the Flames, he also places high among forwards league-wide. When filtering out any forward who played fewer than 500 minutes, Backlund is inside the top 45 out of roughly 400 players for all of the listed statistics. His highest rankings fall under CF% and xG% where he places seventh and eleventh respectably. His lowest ranking is forty-second with his HDCF%.
Deeper dive on Backlund’s performance using an analytical model
Moving over to HockeyViz.com, we will be looking at some of their charts and graphs to get an even better picture of how good Backlund was, starting with an isolated impact chart.
Taking a quick glance at this chart, we can see where Backlund thrived and where he struggled. According to this model, Backlund had a better offensive impact than defensive. For those unfamiliar with these charts more red means more shots and offence and blue means fewer, so offensively: red is good, blue is bad; and defensively: red is bad, blue is good. At 5v5 offence, Backlund had a +10% with red all over the ice. Most of his offensive was being generated around the faceoff circles and in the slot. Moving down to the other end of the ice, Backlund had -7% with blue all over with barely any red showing. Backlund was particularly well at stopping offence from being generated around the net, in the middle of the zone, and at the left point.
With the isolated impact out of way, we’ll now be looking at the Flames 5v5 offence and defence with and without Backlund. We can quickly see that the Flames were a lot better with Backlund on the ice. On the offensive end of the ice, the Flames go from having a +3% without to a +22% with. There was also way more offence generated in higher danger areas with Backlund. Now going to the defensive end, it goes from a -6% to a -19% with barely any red and plenty of dark blue, especially around the net.
Should the Flames trade Backlund?
The topic of trading Mikael Backlund is destined to be a controversial one with the fan base. There is likely two sides to this debate, keeping and trading and they both have valid reasonings.
The keeping side will have reasons such as wanting to keep the longest-tenured Flame around after losing quite a few in the past couple of years, think he’s the perfect choice to lead this team and want him as captain, and that he gels perfectly with rookies and common linemates, Blake Coleman and Andrew Mangiapane and that’s something you can’t replace.
The trading side will have reasons like moving him as he just had a career year and his value will never be this high again, teams love to give up assets for reliable two-way players, thinking a retool/rebuild is the way to go, he’s at the prime age for a decline, and/or believing he won’t re-sign.
If I had to choose a side, I’d say trade him for most of the reasons listed. He’ll likely never have a season this good again and I could see him fetching a late first-round pick based on returns we’ve seen in the past. Ultimately, the decision to trade him or not will come down to his willingness to re-sign. If he doesn’t want to, then he made the decision for the Flames and he’s traded. If he does want to re-sign, then the Flames once again have the choice to trade him or not, but something tells me that if there is that willingness, the Flames and Backlund will be putting pen to paper very shortly after.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire