Mikael Backlund is one of many of the Calgary Flames mysteries this summer.
Coming off a career season, one worthy of a Selke nod that won’t come, the 34-year-old centre is at a crossroads.
With the team missing the playoffs this season, Backlund wasn’t sure last month that he’d remain a member of the Calgary Flames for life — a scenario so many fans would love to see. He has just one more year on his current contract.
This week, there’s been talk about the vacant captaincy. At least one insider (Elliotte Friedman) has said he’s heard it is (or was) something Backlund really wants (or wanted).
Offering the team’s longest-serving Flame the letter could be part of any contract extension put in front of Backlund this summer. It should have been done at least a year ago, if not immediately following Mark Giordano’s departure. But head coach Darryl Sutter didn’t see it that way. He often said a captain isn’t necessary. Or he’d refer to Backlund and veteran defenceman Chris Tanev as co-captains. He tied the captaincy to contracts in a way that prevented either Backlund or Matthew Tkachuk from wearing it because they weren’t locked up long-term.
If wearing the C and getting across the 1,000-game mark in a Flames jersey is meaningful to Backlund, the franchise should find a way to make it happen. But they need to give him hope, too.
At his end-of-season podium chat, he said he wanted to win a Stanley Cup. The public words match the private belief he told the Flames he didn’t want to be part of a rebuild. He was open to moving on.
A year from now, he could pick from any suitor seeking to sip from the Cup. It’s hard to blame him for hesitating when asked if he’d be open to extension talks to keep him in Calgary.
“We’ll see what happens,” Backlund said after a long pause from the podium. “I’ve been here a long time and I love Calgary and I love this organization, but the year we had … I’m 34 years old. I want to win the Stanley Cup.
“I might want to see what this group can do before I make a decision.”
So does the rest of Calgary. But the Sutter firing and determination to put together a team that can compete next year could be enough. Especially if you add in the captaincy.