Calgary Flames Free Agents: What Will Mikael Backlund Cost?


The Calgary Flames enter the offseason with the same goal as every team in the National Hockey League, which is to improve their team and get closer to winning the Stanley Cup. One step in that direction is analyzing their own current free agents and deciding which of them are worth offering a new contract and which should be allowed to test the free agent waters on July 1st.

Perhaps the best player that is currently a free agent is Mikael Backlund. The 26 year old two way forward has proven to be a valuable second line center for the Flames, playing behind Sean Monahan. Backlund over the past three years with Calgary has chipped in offence at about half of a point per game and played against top competition.

Backlund’s ten goals and 17 assists for 27 points in 52 games had him at about a 45 point pace over a full NHL season. He has produced at a very consistent offensive rate for the past three seasons, reaching career highs last year of 18 goals, 21 assists and 39 points in 76 games. Again, over a full season he would have scored between 40 and 45 points.

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Backlund was a first round pick, 24th overall by the Flames in the 2007 NHL Draft. He is proving to be a solid contributor at the NHL level, but may not live up to the offensive potential that is normally promised by first round centres on draft day. He can contribute some scoring, but is never going to steal power play time away from Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau.

The Swedish centre’s offence is nothing to brush off, but it is his defensive ability that makes him a very valuable player to the Flames. Backlund teamed up with Lance Bouma to form the Flames top penalty killing unit all season, which freed up Monahan to play a more offensive role.

May 5, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund (11) controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks during the overtime period in game three of the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Ideally, a player of Backlund’s caliber would be a third line center for the Flames. Perhaps, when Sam Bennett gets comfortable at the NHL level and moves to his natural position of center, that’s where Backlund ends up. Right now though, Backlund is the second line center on this team, and should be paid accordingly.

Backlund is a restricted free agent, meaning he is property of the Flames, even if they don’t come to an agreement before July 1st. Though there is a chance someone negotiates an offer sheet with Backlund, it is unlikely and the talks will be exclusively between the Flames and Backlund’s agent.

Looking around the league at comparable players to Backlund to get an idea of what his next contract might be, I get the idea he will sign somewhere in the neighbourhood of three million dollars per year on a three to four year contract.

Chris Kelly of the Boston Bruins scored 20 goals and 19 assists for 39 points in 82 games while also centering third line and killing penalties in the 2011-12 season. He was a pending UFA and signed a four year deal at $3.0 million per year.

Martin Hanzal of the Phoenix Coyotes was in a very similar position to Backlund’s today. A former first round pick, he was a RFA coming off a season where he scored 34 points in 64 games. He is a hulking center who is probably best suited as a third line player that was playing higher on the depth chart due to a lack of depth on his team. Hanzal signed a five year deal with the Coyotes at the age of 25 that would pay him $3.1 million per year.

Lars Eller is a third line center for the Montreal Canadiens who is counted on to play a similar role to Backlund, though the Flames center brings more offence. Eller was coming off a huge playoff performance where he scored 13 points in 17 games in 2014, though he had just 26 points in 77 regular season games. The RFA signed a four year contract at $3.5 million per season.

Apr 19, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames defenseman TJ Brodie (7) celebrates his first period goal with defenseman David Schlemko (3) and center Mikael Backlund (11) against Vancouver Canucks in game three of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Sutter, an RFA with the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer was coming off a season where he scored 13 goals and 26 points as their third line, penalty killing center. He signed a two year deal at $3.3 million per year, giving up a little term for a higher salary.

Patrik Berglund with the St. Louis Blues, signed a three year deal with a $3.7 million cap hit last summer. He was a RFA coming off a 14 goal, 32 point season in 78 games playing a shutdown role from the third line with the Blues.

Based on his role, and the contracts signed by similar players in the past few years, my guess is that Mikael Backlund signs a three year deal with a $3.5 million dollar cap hit. It would be a fair deal for both sides, and the Flames have plenty of cap space to make it work.

With that deal, Backlund would probably be a bit underpaid if you consider him a second line center, and slightly above the average pay of a typical third line center. This is exactly where he fits in the lineup, getting the job done on a second line, but would be a better fit as a third line center.

A three year contract at $3.5 million per year would match that description perfectly and would make both team and player happy.

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