Why Mikael Backlund is a secret star at center for Calgary

The Hockey News
The advanced statistics show Mikael Backlund's value extends way beyond his point totals. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Dom Luszczyszyn

To compete in the West, the most important thing a team needs is depth and star power at center ice. The best of the West, including last year’s Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings, have it in spades, and it’s a huge part of their success. So it should come as no surprise the Flames were pretty much a unanimous choice as the West’s tribute to the Connor McDavid Hunger Games.

On paper they look like they have one of the worst groups of centers in the league (we ranked their centers 29th in our season preview, ahead of only Buffalo), but on the ice that’s not entirely true. That’s because the Flames have a top center in their lineup who could be the West’s best-kept secret: Mikael Backlund.

Up until last season, the 24th overall pick in 2007 had been flying way under the radar, spending most of his time toiling on the Flames’ third line. But he made a huge jump last year and, by the end of the season, he became a fixture at the top of the depth chart. He even spent some time on the top power play and penalty-killing units.

“I’ve seen him over the years and I really thought last year his game took a significant step forward,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving. “He was a really impactful player here, especially down the stretch. He was a consistent guy last year, but I look at his games after Christmas — and I’ve gone back and watched all the games when I got here — he really just jumps off the map at you.”

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Rumor Roundup: Will tanking be a problem in 2014-15?

Jordan & Eric Staal (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks is no fan of the current NHL draft lottery system, believing it rewards teams that perform poorly. He suggests some teams could attempt to tank the season in order to better their odds of landing the first overall pick.

Brooks wonders if the Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames or Carolina Hurricanes decide at the NHL trade deadline to trade their best player for a seventh-round pick if the league would reject such a deal. Given how lopsided that trade would be, one suspects the league would reject it based on proportionality. Read more

Mike Milbury says fighting should go, so we should keep it

Boston's Bobby Robins (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mike Milbury has made a career out of being controversial, from beating a fan with his own shoe during his playing days, to lamenting about the “pansification” of hockey as a broadcaster. And in between, he traded some of the best players in the NHL away from his New York Islanders as GM of the franchise. (cough)

Last night, Milbury remarked on NBC’s broadcast of the Bruins-Flyers game that it was time for fighting to go. “It’s over” was a particularly clear remark on the matter, as he and fellow analyst Keith Jones cited the style of play these days and concussions.

And look, that’s a great corporate line to spew. But I like my hockey with a touch of mayhem and if a man with Milbury’s track record is coming down on one side of an issue, I have no problem going the other way.

No doubt there is evidence that the straight-up enforcer is going through an identity crisis right now; Paul Bissonnette couldn’t find work, nor could Kevin Westgarth or George Parros. But to say fighting should go altogether? We’re not there yet (and I hope we never will be).

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Henrik Sedin’s empty-net goal a gritty thing of beauty

Adam Proteau
Henrik Sedin (Getty Images)

Henrik Sedin didn’t waste much time making it to the highlight reel this season. And to his credit, the Canucks captain managed the rare feat of making an empty-net goal look incredibly challenging and memorable in Vancouver’s 4-2 win over Calgary Wednesday.

The Canucks were leading the host Flames with less than 90 seconds to play when Sedin picks up the puck at his own blueline, skates through two opponents, fights off both of them deep in Calgary’s zone, and bats the puck into the net as he’s falling to the ice, just before he knocks the net off its moorings:
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Bruins beat Flyers in second round – does EA stand for ‘Errors Abound’?

(Image courtesy EA Sports.)

No need to play the 2014-15 season, National Hockey League. Yes, that may cut into the $4 billion in revenues you’re expected to generate, but think of the cost savings for teams that lose money.

Really, why actually play a season when a simulated NHL season has already been played, the Stanley Cup has been awarded and all the awards winners have already been determined? That’s what EA Sports, creators of the NHL 15 video game, have done. And they’ve determined that the Los Angeles Kings will become the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and ’98. Read more

Five reasons why Sam Bennett should stay in the NHL; five reasons why he should go back to junior

Brian Costello
Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett has been Calgary’s best player in the two NHL pre-season games he’s played. Despite that, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft is likely headed back to the Ontario League’s Kingston Frontenacs for the bulk of the season.

Here are five reasons why he should stick with the Flames as an 18-year-old and five reasons why he’s destined to go back.

Stay. He’s quick enough and skilled enough to make an impact. In the two pre-season games – both losses to Vancouver – Bennett dazzled with his speed, moves, and creativity and assisted on Calgary’s lone goal. He generated nine shots and was pretty much the team’s lone reliable scoring threat in the two games.

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The top 10 fighters to watch this season

Brian McGrattan and Patrick Bordeleau (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

If you like a good scrap, you might find yourself a bit under siege lately in the hockey world. Regulations are tightening up, though the powers-that-be still maintain that organic fights, rather than staged bouts, are still part of the game. And even though enforcers such as Paul Bissonnette and Colton Orr appear to have uphill battles in returning to the NHL this season, there are still plenty of scrappers to watch. With a shout-out to hockeyfights.com as a research tool, here are the best:

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Why Kevin Hayes chose the New York Rangers

Kevin Hayes (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Kevin Hayes is one of the biggest names playing at the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan. Heck, he’s been one of the biggest names in hockey this summer. That’s because his senior season at Boston College was so scintillating that teams were fiending to sign him up once it became apparent he would not sign with the team that drafted him, the Chicago Blackhawks.

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