The tides seem to be turning in the willingness of the Calgary Flames’ slate of pending UFAs to stay with the team. Just two weeks ago, the team didn’t have any extension talks scheduled with veteran center Mikael Backlund, per his agent, J.P. Barry. Now, TSN’s Chris Johnston reported on Insider Trading Tuesday that the two sides have now commenced extension talks and plan to continue them in the near future.
It’s been quite the saga over the past few months between the Flames and their veteran of over 900 NHL games. More recently, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said he believes a potential extension in Calgary for Backlund could be tied to the team’s vacant captaincy. Today’s news could hint at an announcement in turn in the near future. Backlund is entering the final season of a six-year, $32.1MM extension signed in 2018, by far the richest deal of his career. It’s well-documented that Backlund isn’t the only pending free agent center rookie GM Craig Conroy has to worry about – first-line pivot Elias Lindholm is also entering the final season of his bargain-bin deal earning him $4.85MM per season.
Backlund also indicated earlier in the offseason that he was inclined to let the season play out a bit to ensure the team was on the right track under new management before considering an extension. Lindholm had indicated something similar, although Backlund now evidently has what he needs from Conroy and new head coach Ryan Huska to work toward an extension before the regular season starts. That doesn’t necessarily mean either are in a rush to get a deal done, though, and extension talks with Backlund could easily last months.
Despite the fact he’s set to turn 35 before 2023-24 ends, Backlund’s set himself up well value-wise heading into a contract year. He finished sixth in Selke Trophy voting last season, and his 37 assists were a career-high. He also appeared in all 82 games for the second straight season and the fourth time in his career overall. Because of that, don’t expect much of a discount – in fact, Evolving Hockey projects Backlund’s extension to carry a significant four-year term and roughly $5.5MM cap hit. That would be a small raise on his current average annual value of $5.35MM, a raise Backlund will likely hold out for, given his higher leverage in negotiations as a UFA.
Whether a raise is something Calgary can accommodate with more significant raises due to Backlund and potentially defenseman Noah Hanifin is a different question. CapFriendly projects the Flames with $35.45MM in cap space for 2024-25, assuming the Upper Limit rises to $87.5MM, but that’s with a roster size of just 11 out of a maximum of 23 players.
Regardless, this does seem to indicate a more positive trend around the Flames organization in players’ willingness to stay with the team – hopefully a strong indicator of the culture Conroy and Huska have brought to the team in a few short months.