New York Rangers: Trade target Mikael Backlund

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 17: Mikael Backlund
CALGARY, AB - APRIL 17: Mikael Backlund /

The dog days of summer are quickly approaching and the New York Rangers are yet to find a replacement for number one center Derek Stepan. The Calgary Flames’ Mikael Backlund could be that replacement.

The New York Rangers are in desperate need of a top six center. In the days before the NHL Entry Draft, general manager Jeff Gorton traded number one center Derek Stepan and backup goalie Antti Raanta to Arizona. While the Rangers drafted a center with the number seven pick, they need an impact player now.

Free agency didn’t prove helpful to the Rangers. While there weren’t many centers available, many were high impact players. Only one center, David Desharnais, was signed by the Rangers.

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That leaves the trade market to dictate the Rangers’ next move. I believe the criminally underrated Mikael Backlund of the Calgary Flames could be the perfect addition to the Blueshirts’ roster. However, the price may be too high. First, let’s break down Backlund himself.

Backlund’s Skills

Mikael Backlund is a piece from the same mold as Derek Stepan. He plays at both ends of the ice with the same intensity and excellence. Backlund’s career path has made him one of the most underrated players in the NHL.

Backlund came to North America in the 2008-2009 season. He played only one game with the Flames before being relegated to the WHL. The following season, Backlund split the year between the NHL and the AHL.

Throughout his career, Backlund has battled injuries. Prior to the 2015 season, he had never played a full NHL season. However, he has only missed one game over the past two seasons.

Backlund broke out in these past two seasons, as well. Through all 82 games two seasons ago, Backlund scored 21 goals and 26 assists for 47 points. As for this past season, he improved on that, scoring 22 goals and 31 assists in one less game.

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Backlund does much more than just score, though. He also ranks very highly in shot generation and suppression. Per Own the Puck’s HERO chart, Backlund scored at a similar rate to the archetypical first line center, while providing more in terms of shot generation and shot suppression. The price to acquire Backlund, however, may be prohibitive.

The Cost

Mikael Backlund is on the Calgary Flames’ second line but is their best all-around center. After reaching the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, the Flames front office is probably reluctant to move the 28-year-old. It would take a lot from the Rangers to pry Backlund out of Calgary, but this may be their only chance.

Next offseason, Backlund is an unrestricted free agent. While grabbing him in free agency may seem like a better option than trading for him this season, the Rangers may not be able to afford him. If he has another productive year, Backlund stands to make more than his current $3.575 million a year.

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The Rangers also get hit by their own cap crunch next offseason. Many young players, namely Brady Skjei, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes, all of whom deserve an increase in pay, become free agents. The Rangers would need to some serious juggling to keep hold of all of those players and sign Backlund.