Flames’ Backlund: ‘This is where we belong’
CALGARY – Stitching the C on Mikael Backlund’s sweater may have been the easiest decision the Calgary Flames have ever made.
On Wednesday, the Flames ended days of speculation by signing the 34-year-old centre to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $4.5 million and naming him the 21st captain in franchise history. Calgary has not had a captain since Mark Giordano was chosen by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 expansion draft.
The Flames drafted Backlund 24th overall in 2007. The Vasteras, Sweden, native, who had a career-high 56 points last season, including 19 goals, could have become an unrestricted free agent in July of 2024 and had hinted at possibly going that route in April after the team missed the playoffs. Instead, he returned to Calgary after the summer and felt rejuvenated under a new head coach in Ryan Huska and new general manager in Craig Conroy.
Backlund soaked in the new energy around the Saddledome at training camp, a far happier and healthier place than when he left following the end of the 2022-23 season. He spoke to fans while out at the grocery store. And after putting together a pros and cons list on paper, he and his wife, Frida, decided that Calgary was where they wanted to be.
“We came over here, saw a lot of people, people were so excited, hoping we would stay,” he said.
“Getting a lot of appreciation from the fans, just on the streets or in the grocery store, [the Flames’] golf tournament. [We] could really feel the love and appreciation.”
The past couple of weeks, several players, including Jonathan Huberdeau, Rasmus Andersson and Nikita Zadorov, have said publicly that Backlund was the captain, even if he did not have the C on his jersey yet.
“When you talk to these guys…there wasn’t really a second choice [for captain] if Backs was here and wanted to stay,” Conroy said.
“That was to a man. I think everyone felt the same way.”
As a teammate, players say that Backlund mentors younger Flames, organizes social events, and isn’t afraid to go to coaches and management to advocate for a day off or a lighter practice schedule if they need it. Backlund leads by example, is constantly among the fittest Flames and does extra work on the ice. Teammates and management notice.
“When the captain’s in the gym, guess what?” Conroy said. “Everyone else is in the gym.”
“When he’s out doing extra [work] on the ice, they’re out doing extra [work] on the ice.”
“He was one of the first guys that texted me after I got drafted,” Andersson said.
“When you’re at the camps when you’re younger, he took care of you and once you made the team, he took care of you even more.”
Conroy pointed out that Backlund has not been afraid to have honest, tough conversations with fellow Flames.
“He’s having hard conversations with players,” the GM said.
“He’s challenging players. That’s not always easy…you’re friends. You don’t want to have those hard conversations but I did hear Backs was having them. ‘We need more from you.’ He’s not doing it in front of everybody. He was taking them aside and saying, ‘Hey, that’s not good enough. If we’re going to do well here, we need more from you.’”
Backlund was having those hard conversations as recently as Monday evening. Blueliner MacKenzie Weegar was tossed from the preseason game versus the Seattle Kraken that evening. The first person to give him grief? The soon-to-be captain.
“He was the first guy to come up to me after the game and give me s--t for getting kicked out of the game,” Weegar said.
“That’s great leadership there. I needed that.”
Backlund’s impact goes well beyond the Flames.
He and Frida are staples in the Calgary community, constantly attending various charity events and fundraisers. Last season, he won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and community involvement. As a younger player, he would often bring leftover food from the Saddledome to a homeless shelter after games. Now with the C formally stitched on his sweater, Backlund’s community involvement will continue.
His goal on the ice in his new role this upcoming season is a simple one.
“I’ve only got one mission in mind now,” he said.
“And it’s to win here in Calgary. It’s to bring the Cup back to Calgary…I felt like this is where we belong.”