Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund the Perfect Trade Target for Carolina Hurricanes

Mark JonesSenior Analyst INovember 27, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 22:  Mikael Backlund #11 of the Calgary Flames during the NHL gameagainst the Phoenix Coyotes  at Arena on October 22, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Flames 4-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Underperforming Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund may soon make a move to the epicenter of NHL career revivals—the Carolina Hurricanes.

Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford is reportedly negotiating frequently with Calgary GM Jay Feaster in regards to Backlund, a former first-round pick who's never quite panned out in Alberta.

Per Darren Dreger on TSN's Insider Trading:

Teams are calling about Mikael Backlund, no surprise there, specifically the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are looking for a third line centre as well as a puck moving defenceman. Carolina has made an offer on Backlund but there's no fit there just yet. The Flames also need an age-comparable player in terms of their return.

COLUMBUS, OH - JUNE 22:  24th overall pick Mikael Backlund of the Calgary Flames poses with team personnel after being drafted in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft at Nationwide Arena on June 22, 2007 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Backlund, now 24, was picked 24th overall in 2007 by then-Flames GM Darryl Sutter. He's sputtered through portions of six NHL seasons since, however, tallying just 25 goals, 44 assists and a minus-17 record in 193 appearances.

The 6'0", 198-pound Swede has become the classic example of a Europe-to-North America prospect transition failure. Backlund was drafted out of the depths of Swedish junior- and minor-leagues based on perceived talent rather than tangible success, and the risk blew up in Calgary's face.

Backlund's situation was described in an elegant column by's George Johnson on Monday:

The market’s crashed. His stock’s bottomed out. Once so rich in promise, so flush with opportunity, only to find himself now, jarringly, starting from scratch; all the collateral he’d built up, vanished.

Pipped, not so terribly long ago, as the No. 1 centre of the future in this organization, if only by process of elimination, a natural fit between Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, Backlund has watched his status whittled away by a 19-year-old rookie whiz kid, a resurrected 29-year-old playmaker and a hometown Toronto Maple Leaf minor-league cast-off.

October 19, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund (11) looks on against the San Jose Sharks during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. The Sharks defeated the Flames 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Most in Backlund's troubles soon end their career slide by returning to Europe (often for good). But, occasionally, one turns such a rough NHL transition into a late-blossoming stardom.

The Carolina Hurricanes are very familiar with perhaps the best example of that: Jiri Tlusty.

On Dec. 4, 2009, Rutherford acquired Tlusty, the 13th overall selection in 2006, from Toronto in exchange for Phillipe Paradis. Tlusty had struggled through everything from terrible statistics to a photo scandal during his maligned time in Ontario; his value was in the process of falling off a cliff.

Paradis' rights were held only briefly by the Maple Leafs, and the 22-year-old now boasts two points in 16 games for Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate in 2013-14.

Meanwhile, Tlusty is coming off a fifth-place league-wide finish in goals in 2012-13—he tallied 23 in his final 39 games of the campaign—and has emerged as an inconsistent yet undeniably dynamic cornerstone of Carolina's offense.

March 24, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Carolina Hurricanes right wing Jiri Tlusty (19) celebrates his goal against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Backlund could soon become project Tlusty 2.0 in Raleigh.

After a solid, if not eye-opening, 25-point, 73-game campaign in 2010-11, he missed half of Calgary's 2011-12 season with a variety of injuries. He managed 32 appearances in 2012-13, but was far from 100 percent healthy on most nights.

Backlund has remained injury-free this autumn, but his on-ice impact is more inept than ever. A change of scenery is desperately needed.

Backlund Stats by Season
SeasonGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPlus/Minus

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 22:  Mikael Backlund #11 of the Calgary Flames skates the puck up ice as Mike Ribeiro #63 of the Phoenix Coyotes trails the play during the third period at Arena on October 22, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm H
Norm Hall/Getty Images

For the 'Canes, he'd be initially slotted into a bottom-six role. With Carolina's 28th-ranked offense in need of a jolt, however, Backlund would have plenty of opportunity to move up the depth chart later on.

Another positive factor for the Swede are his underlying numbers in 2013-14. Backlund currently ranks third on the bottom-dwelling Flames in Corsi Relative—an impressive showing considering his unlucky 953 PDO.

Backlund is also doing a terrific job advancing the puck in defensive situations. The difference between his 45.3 offensive zone start percentage and 55.0 finish percentage leads the team.

With his trade value at a remarkable all-time low, now is the time for the Hurricanes to make a winning offer and buy on Backlund.

Carolina needs a change. Backlund needs a change. The potential impact when both receive it could be exponential.


Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.