July 5, 2012
Backlund re-ups with Flames
By WES GILBERTSON and RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
CALGARY - This summer, Mikael Backlund was just trying to avoid the Heat.
Less than 12 months after he was pencilled in as the Calgary Flames’ likely first-line centre last fall, the skilled Swede was simply pushing for a big-league contract with the club.
That’s the result of a miserable NHl season for the 23-year-old restricted free agent, who has inked a one-year — and more importantly, one-way — deal with the Flames and is hellbent on answering his critics next winter.
“That was my biggest point to push for in the contract was I wanted a one-way and to play in the NHL, because I know I can do better than I did last year and want to prove to people and myself that I can do that,” Backlund said.
“I know myself that I wasn’t good enough,” he continued. “Nobody has to tell me that. I know that myself that I have to be way better than I was last year. I’ve been working hard so far, and I will keep doing it. It’s a big relief to get a contract done and know where I will be playing next year.”
At least, that’s where he’ll be getting paid to play.
He’s no sure-thing to crack the Calgary club’s roster, but Backlund will earn US$$725,000 next season even if he’s skating with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat.
Flames GM Jay Feaster has been a busy guy this off-season, and two of his key additions — Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka — will likely get a look up the middle. Roman Horak, Blair Jones and Matt Stajan will also be fighting for one of four pivot positions, while Michael Cammalleri could slide over from the wing.
“Mikael has an opportunity to step up and attempt to secure a top two-line centre position with our club,” Feaster said in Thursday’s contract announcement. “He is a very talented player who skates well, has excellent vision and possesses a strong skill-set. As we have discussed with him, Mikael needs to work on his consistency and his focus in order to break through in a top-six role and start to define his role on our team. We are excited about the level of competition that should exist in camp this fall, and we expect Mikael to be in the thick of those battles.”
The 2011-12 campaign was a nightmare for Backlund, who suffered a broken finger late in training camp and a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-February.
In between, he scored just four goals and added seven helpers in 41 games — not exactly the type of production that was expected from the leading candidate to skate between Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay on the top unit last fall.
“You always learn something. I’ve been in this league for a few years, and you learn something every year and every day,” Backlund said. “I’ve learned you can not take anything for granted, especially over the last few weeks here when I was getting a little anxious about the contract and being able to play in the NHL. I know I want to keep doing that for a long time, and you can’t take anything for granted in this league.
“You’ve got to work hard every day and prove yourself and show the coaches and the organization that you are ready to battle hard and work hard every day. That’s something I have to get better at — being a competitor for 82 games.”
And if not?
“If I don’t have a good year this year, I might be back in Europe,” Backlund admitted. “And I don’t want to be there.”
With Backlund signed, goalie Leland Irving is the only restricted free agent still negotiating with the Flames.