The Calgary Flames were a nice little story this season, but no team wants to be just a nice story. Signing center Mikael Backlund to a contract that provides upside in both directions is evidence that both the team and the player have their heads on right.
Backlund, a two-way pivot who is an advanced stats darling, inked a three-year deal on the weekend with an annual value of $3.5 million. Though he doesn't get a lot of headlines, the Swedish center has drawn praise from countryman and division rival Henrik Sedin (who knows a little something about the position) and played some of the toughest yet effective minutes of any Flames forward – only David Jones beat him in that category.
So why didn't Backlund go for more loot?
With a bridge deal such as this, he gets a chance to shine even more and cash in on his next contract, when he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency. As of now, Backlund has never had a huge offensive season – his career high is 39 points in 76 games – but he's now in his prime years and an abdominal injury slowed him down in 2014-15.
Given that he is already a dangerous penalty-killer (two of his 10 goals were shorthanded this year) and that Calgary's forward corps will become even more potent as players such as Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan and John Gaudreau mature, it's easy to see Backlund's value driven up by the end of this new pact.
On the other side of the ledger, you have Calgary's perspective. Getting Backlund under contract for this mid-range of time is nice, because the Flames need to set the table for the future; specifically the summer of 2016. That's when Monahan, Gaudreau and captain Mark Giordano will all need new deals and they are big-time puzzle pieces.
Right now, GM Brad Treliving gets the services of that trio for a total cap hit of just $6 million – and that number may triple when the new contracts are signed. While it's hard to say what the salary cap will be, the Flames may also need a new starting goaltender by then (Jonas Hiller has one year left on his deal right now). The cost assurance of Backlund may help when making decisions elsewhere – such as Jiri Hudler's future with the club, as an example.
There are a lot of moving parts here, clearly, but Treliving is in a sweet spot right now. His team is young and talented with room to improve and more help on the way (keep in mind Bennett has only played 12 total games with the squad). He did himself a favor locking in Backlund the way he did, but Backlund also won here, since he has given himself flexibility for the future.