Backlund still keen to wait and see on his Flames future, hasn’t ‘closed any doors’

Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund celebrates his goal during third period NHL hockey action against the Vegas Golden Knights in Calgary, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY – Mikael Backlund hadn’t even made it to the baggage carousel at Calgary International Airport when his future was broached.

“People at the airport came up right away and said, ‘I hope you are staying,’” smiled Backlund, making his first public comments since returning to a town that has been talking about his contract status all summer long.     

“It’s really special every time we come back here to Calgary and get that appreciation and love from the fans and the community of Calgary.”

Locals are certainly hoping the fan favourite can be swayed by their ongoing encouragement to end the speculation that has hovered over the organization all summer.

Like several other key players, Backlund is entering the final year of his contract, and left Calgary last spring by declaring he wouldn’t sign in the summer as he wanted to see what direction the organization was heading in. 

“I’m still feeling that way,” said the 34-year centre who was presented the Harley Hotchkiss Award at Tuesday’s golf tourney luncheon as team MVP.

“I mean, I’m really excited about all the things here, and we love Calgary – it’s our home. 

“I haven’t closed any doors. I’m excited to start the season. We’ll see how things shake out.”

Backlund had every right to be skeptical when he left for the summer, as he and coach Darryl Sutter did not see eye to eye, nor was anyone in the room happy about the never-ending series of one-goal losses and overtime heartbreak in a playoff-less season.

Frustration abounded for a team that fell miserably short of expectations that were lofty despite the loss of Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau a year earlier.

“There were so many things that happened over the year – coaching staff, management, big stars leaving a year ago… I just want to see where this organization is going,” said Backlund, whose 56 points last year was a career high.

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“I only have so many years left, and I want to make the most of it.

“I love Calgary. I’m not just going to take off and leave. It’s a big decision, but that hasn’t been done yet.”

Deeming it an “unsure summer,” Backlund said he had several good talks with new GM Craig Conroy, who he once played alongside.

He admitted he loves the idea of re-upping with the team, playing in his 1000th game with the club (he’s 92 games short) and eventually being anointed a Forever A Flame.

But he also wants to win, and unless the Flames get off to a great start, the chances of players like him, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin extending their stays are understandably remote. 

“Connie knows where I’m at, and I appreciate he’s being respectful and not pushing me,” he said, making it clear what the deciding factors will be. 

“Winning is a big factor. 

“If we have a really good season and things feel really good, the mood is different and everyone is excited and everyone fits in and everything works, and we’re contending to be a top three team (in the division) going into the second half – that would be a big thing for me.”

Backlund said he was disappointed a Swedish report over the summer suggested he wouldn’t re-sign in Calgary, flatly denying he said anything of the sort.

His mind is open to the possibility this team could rebound from last year’s faceplant.

“I think we could be a really good team,” said Backlund, a fan of new coach Ryan Huska, who is known for his communication with the players.

“If we can just make the playoffs I think we can be a contending team.

“We all saw Florida last year.

“We haven’t made many changes, which I think is good because all the new guys from last year will be more comfortable and know what to expect in Calgary, and I’m excited for the new staff and management.”

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As the league’s reigning King Clancy Award winner, no one worries about Backlund’s ability to be a pro through this feeling-out process, especially Conroy.

“You want to do what’s right for the team moving forward, and if that’s just to be patient and see how things start out, great,” said the GM, who believes both Lindholm and Hanifin are also open to staying in Calgary if the season starts well. 

“Guys get excited, and we get off to a good start. then these guys will hopefully feel like they want to be a Calgary Flame, and I believe most of them do.”

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