The effects of an NHL work stoppage will be felt in all kinds of different areas. In terms of the two parties negotiating, those effects will be felt in varying degrees. Some owners will feel the hit to their pocket book more than others. The same is true, then, of players. The cancellation of part, or all, of a season will affect some players in a negative fashion to a greater degree. So, which members of the Calgary Flames may feel this the most?
Comeau is coming off a nightmare season by most standards. After going pointless in his first 16 games with the New York Islanders — the team that drafted him 47th overall and saw him score 24 goals one year prior — cut him loose and put him on waivers. Things got slightly better after the Flames claimed him in November, but Comeau’s 15 points still represented the lowest point total thus far in his five-year NHL career.
When I spoke to Comeau the day he was claimed by Calgary, there was no question things had gone dramatically sour on Long Island. Eager for a fresh start, Comeau showed some positive signs in his 58-game stint with the Flames, enough to warrant him signing a one-year contract earlier this summer.
Under normal circumstances, a full training camp with his new team would have been huge for Comeau. Camp one year ago was the beginning of his nightmare departure from the Islanders organization and set the tone for a year he’d like to forget. Knowing that, he’s looking at the coming year as a chance to prove to the Flames he’s better than what he showed one year ago, starting with training camp.
“I was lucky that I came to Calgary and a good organization that gave me another chance,” Comeau told me in June after signing his new deal. “It was just so frustrating for myself because I felt like I was getting a good opportunity and I wasn’t producing offensively.
“That’s why this season, I’m excited to be with Calgary right from the start of the season and not join halfway through and be a part of it right away.”
And yet, he might not get that full year he envisioned. Every player is going to have to battle a potential short camp and getting back into the groove of things late, but not every player is in an urgent situation like Comeau. The Flames do believe there’s something there, but they also want to see him prove it, which is why a one-year contract was signed.
Who knows how much of a negative effect a shortened season might have on Comeau. However, it is fair to say a full season, with a full training camp, is his best case scenario. Knowing where his frustration level is, Comeau could use all the best case scenarios he can get.
In much the same situation as Comeau, Backlund enters the coming campaign on a one-year contract after a disappointing 2011-2012 season. A variety of factors, including two long-term injuries, contributed to a four-goal, 11-point season for the former first-round pick. While his confidence went for a rollercoaster ride, so too did the opinions of him within the organization.
Flames general manager Jay Feaster used the term “whistling past the graveyard” in the second half of the season when describing how close Backlund was to being sent down to the American Hockey League. While I think he had a pretty decent season, and one where stats don’t tell the whole story, the Flames certainly had their issues at times. It’s pretty clear from the outside that this is a crucial season for the 23-year-old. It’s even clearer to Backlund.
“If Calgary would have wanted to sign me for four years, I would have obviously signed for four years,” Backlund said when I spoke to him in July. “If I have a good year this year, I’ll probably get a good contract next season, so it’ll be a good year for me to show them where I am in my career.
The bad part is that if I have a bad year I probably won’t get another chance in the NHL for now, so I’m going go to camp and do the best of it and hope to get a longer contract next time.”
Once again, just like Comeau, a full training camp would have been the best case scenario for Backlund. What if a stunted start to the season affects him negatively and noticeably? I’m not saying it will, but does that actually mean it could be the end of his time with the Flames? Right or wrong, there’s a good chance it might.
As an organization, you don’t sign a former first-round pick to a one-year contract unless you’re looking for him to prove something to you in the course of that one year. As players, I think both Backlund and Comeau have a lot more in them than what we saw last season. I also believe there’s big potential for both guys to have noticeable rebounds over a full season. That’s why it’s unfortunate an NHL labour dispute may make things more difficult on them in fairly defined “make or break” years.