Mikael Backlund is wearing the losses.
That’s the case for every guy in the Calgary Flames’ locker-room, and it’s been the case for Backlund throughout his career, but this is his first skid as the guy who wears the ‘C.’
“I do feel a little more responsibility,” Backlund told Postmedia earlier this week. “Last year, we had that seven-game losing streak and I felt like, at that time too, I was trying to find ways of how we can turn things around. But now, I definitely feel even more responsibility.
“I’m trying to find a balance — to play better myself and to also figure out how the team can be better. I know we have to all do it together, but I feel the responsibility and I care a lot to want to help and see how we can turn things around.”
As they headed to Seattle for Saturday’s clash with the Kraken, Backlund & Co. were aiming to put an end to a string of six straight losses.
Through their first 10 dates on the calendar, the Flames had sputtered to a 2-7-1 record. That equals their worst start since 2015-16, when they were draft-lottery material from October onward and wound up with the sixth-overall pick.
This current crew was expecting to be competitive, but the losses are stacking up. There has already been chatter — among the fan-base and, without a doubt, in the hockey operations meetings — about whether it’s time to commit to a rebuild.
That certainly isn’t what Backlund was envisioning when, midway through training camp, he scribbled his signature on a two-year contract extension. He was named Calgary’s captain that same day, an announcement that many believe was a season or two overdue.
“I’m trying to be really positive at the rink,” said the 34-year-old Backlund, explaining his approach to leading the Flames through this fall funk. “That’s the only way we’re going to get out of it — by doing it together and being positive and just staying with it. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m going to, at the right times too, keep guys accountable, but I think being positive is a big thing.
“If you start getting grumpy and upset and start whining, it’s going to just keep going sideways. It’s not going to help,” he continued. “So I think it’s really important that we’re trying to make the most of every day — if it’s a practice or a game — and to do it with a smile on our face and enjoy it.
“You know, we’re playing in the NHL. It’s the best league in the world. It’s a privilege to play in the NHL and we’re very lucky and fortunate to do it every day. I try to remind myself of that and the guys, as well. In stretches like this, it’s hard to stay positive, but it’s even more important to do it.”
Indeed, there are only 700-and-some job openings at hockey’s highest level.
In that already-exclusive club, there are just 32 dudes with the honour of captaining their respective squads.
While it’s a prestigious post, few envy the designated face-of-the-franchise when it feels like the wheels have come off. The spokesperson role often seems like a can’t-win if the team … you know … can’t win.
“Backs always says the right things and always plays the right way,” said defenceman Rasmus Andersson, the latest addition to the Flames’ cast of alternate captains. “I get it — it’s tough on him too, especially when you’re on a losing skid like this. But it’s not on Backs. It’s on all players, but it’s on all of us in our leadership group equally. We have to help and support Backs. Sometimes, you have to pick up the slack too, right?
“But he’s been handling it really well. He’s been nothing but great.”
Head coach Ryan Huska echoed that. While this struggling bunch has some issues to address, starting with turnover troubles and five-on-five scoring woes, the captain isn’t on the list of concerns.
Huska stressed that Backlund continues to set a positive example — as he put it, “Mikael has the respect of the room and he understands if he doesn’t play the way he needs to play, then it’s OK for other guys to do the same thing” — and the skipper has also noticed that this heart-and-soul centre is now more willing to pipe up when there’s a message to be delivered.
“I think he’s grown a lot, to be quite honest with you,” Huska said of No. 11. “There were times in years prior when you didn’t really hear much from him in certain situations. He’s one of those guys that typically goes out and plays, and he lets a lot of his leading come from his play. But over the last little bit, he’s more vocal now.
“He’s invested in it. He’s engaged. He wants to help turn the corner with and for our team, so I’ve been really impressed with his progression.”
Backlund will be proud to hear that.
But Calgary’s captain would trade any personal praise for a team triumph. As the Flames headed to Seattle for a divisional dust-up with the Kraken, they were desperate for a W. He was also still shooting for his first goal of the new campaign.
“Everyone wants to score goals and I get to play a lot of minutes, so I want to contribute offensively,” Backlund said. “But the toughest part is that we’re not winning. If we win the next 10 games and I’m still scoreless, I don’t care. I just want to start winning games again.”
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Wes Gilbertson and Danny Austin have been covering the Flames for years and know what makes the team tick. Have questions? They have the answers – or the contacts to track them down. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org