It’s a good spot for me, I feel. It’s been a roller coaster ride in my years here but I feel like I’ve grown in this organization. I feel good where I’m at right now but I’ve got to come in and push even harder. - Mikael Backlund
CALGARY, AB – His 2014-15 season didn’t get off to the start he would have liked but Mikael Backlund was able to wrap up the year on a strong note.
After missing a large chunk of training camp nursing an abdominal issue, he suited up for 11 games in October, scoring a goal and four points in his first seven outings of the year before cooling off at the end of the month.
In late October, the Flames shut the pivot down in hopes the malady would settle with rest and not require surgery but after a few weeks with little change, Backlund and the team opted to undergo an abdominal procedure that would end up sidelining him until January.
He rejoined the lineup on Jan. 7 and had an immediate impact, stringing together a five-game point streak and finished off the month with 10 points. The 26-year-old ended up recording nine goals and 23 points in his final 41 games of the regular season and was a fixture in the Flames' top six rotation.
"Personally, it was a tough year with the injury," Backlund said in his exit interview earlier this month. "When I came back I did a pretty good job of playing some good hockey, but all year my physical status wasn’t the same as it was when I came into training camp. At the same time, I think I played some decent hockey.
"In March there I didn’t play good enough, but I found a way to play better in the playoffs, so it was an okay season for myself, but the team had a really good season."
Backlund led the Flames in shots in the playoffs, firing 30 on net in 11 postseason dates, and was routinely pitted against the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks' top lines.
He was one of the team's most consistent players throughout the playoffs and was singled out by head coach Bob Hartley on numerous occasions for his strong play in all three zones.
His performance in the postseason -- showcasing his defensive prowess along with his playmaking abilities -- is the benchmark for him next season.
"Next year, I’m excited to come back and work hard in the summer to get better," he stated. "Push the guys at centre and it’ll be a good competition."
With Sean Monahan's emergence this past season, moving up to centre the Flames' top line, Hartley regularly placed Backlund on the second line -- a role he is comfortable with.
"Monahan has progressed so much this year - we are all happy to see him have a great season, he’s going to be a great player for us for many years. I keep pushing him, but I feel that second line, third line set-up is pretty good. I want to play as much as possible just like everyone else and help the team, so I’m going to keep pushing whoever is at centre here next year.
"It’s a fun team to play with and no matter what I play, it’s a fun group to be playing with. There’s a good coaching staff here. It’s a good spot for me, I feel. It’s been a roller coaster ride in my years here but I feel like I’ve grown in this organization. I feel good where I’m at right now but I’ve got to come in and push even harder."
One of the Flames off-season tasks is re-upping a crop of restricted free agents, which includes Backlund. Calgary general manager Brad Treliving views Backlund has a key piece in the future and is eager to get the forward locked up this summer.
"I thought it was a tough season," Treliving said of Backlund. "When you miss a training camp like he did, it’s tough to get in a rhythm. Really, the first half of the year he was trying to find a rhythm.
"But I look at him as a guy who makes us deeper down the middle, can play a 200-foot game, can match up -- as we saw in the playoffs -- against other top players. He’s a key player we’ve identified. There’s work to be done on a contract."
Backlund isn't concerned about negotiations, having gone through the process in years past.
"We’ll figure it out. We didn’t want any distractions during playoffs, so it was pretty quiet. My agent and Calgary will probably start talking whenever they feel ready. I don’t feel any stress or anything. It’ll take care of itself."