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Flames’ Mikael Backlund not shy in tackling tough aspects of captaincy


NASHVILLE – Five hundred points, more than 900 games, a pillar in the community, an ambassador for the ages, a two-way stalwart, a fashion plate and the kind of guy you’d want your daughter to marry.

It’s clear, Mikael Backlund was the perfect choice to be named captain of the Calgary Flames.

A mere 18 games into his official leadership role, the 34-year-old Swede has comfortably embraced everything that comes with being the face of a franchise.

Well, except one thing.

“I have to do more public speaking and that makes me a little nervous,” smiled the impeccably dressed leader when asked what’s changed since he earned the C.

“Even at the wheelchair game last week, they’re like, ‘Captain Backs, would you like to say a few words?’ and I’m like, ‘oh ya, I guess.’”

Polite, quiet and ever the diplomat, imagine then how uncomfortable it must have been for Backlund to have the hard conversation last week with Nikita Zadorov about keeping things in house.

Zadorov caused headlines and rankled teammates weeks earlier when, amidst a six-game losing skid, he suggested too many players were playing for themselves. 

The much bigger stir was caused when the Russian blueliner’s agent tweeted about his client’s desire for a trade due to frustration over ice time.

Backlund recognized the noise and constant speculation was turning the Flames season into a circus, which needed to end.

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“I talked to Z personally about it, and Husk and I talked about how we should address it,” explained Backlund.

“I suggested I say something to the group, and he said he was going to talk about it in a way and asked if that will be enough, and I said sure.”

Thus, the order to keep things quiet.

There was enough chatter around the team without the players contributing to it. 

“It felt like it was something every day, so good for him to recognize it,” said GM Craig Conroy.

“I was thinking the same thing, but I didn’t say anything to him though.

“He’s taking charge and that’s what the captain has to do.

“You’d like to not have to do that, but there are things that come up that need to be addressed, and he hasn’t been shy to do that.

“He’s actually talking more than I thought he would, because that’s actually not his personality.

“He’s a pretty quiet guy.  

“But I know when there’s something to be said, and we had the rough stretch in which he had a real hard meeting, which probably isn’t in Backs’ nature.”

Speaking for the first time about the situation, Conroy said he’s spoken with the defenceman (and the agent), reminding him of the importance of simply focusing on continuing to do his job on the ice. 

To his credit, Zadorov has done that.

Don’t expect an imminent trade, as it would set a bad precedent for a new GM to simply bow to a player’s inappropriately public trade request.

“It’s just like any other person, we’re going to do what’s best for the Calgary Flames and on our timeline,” said Conroy.

“You’ve got a whole team of guys and they are all watching.”

The league’s been watching the Flames turn things around with a 5-1-2 record since the six-game slide.

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It’s not a coincidence the team has settled into playing much better hockey with plenty of the noise silenced.

“I think that’s a big part of it for sure,” said Huska, whose club resumes its four-game roadie in Nashville Wednesday.

“The distractions are always going to be there, it’s just learning how to handle them, good or bad.

“Last year, when you go all the way back, we had a hard time because everybody expected us to be an elite team. Well, you think about those things a lot and they affect you. 

“So just come to the rink and do your job every day.”

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Backlund would like more than the two goals and six assists he has to date, but he and Blake Coleman have been a steadying influence as a duo tasked not only with playing great defensively, but bringing along struggling teammates.

Their latest winger is Jonathan Huberdeau, whose game has taken massive strides his last three outings.    

On Monday, Backlund picked up an assist on Rasmus Andersson’s overtime winner, giving the slick centre 500 points – a mark the first rounder admitted earlier in the day he would’ve had a hard time believing he’d ever reach.

“Probably not,” he said.

“There were times I thought I wouldn’t be here for long. 

“I had a good rookie season and then it took a while to really establish myself.

“It feels really special to still be here and be captain.”

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He joins Jarome Iginla, Theo Fleury, Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Johnny Gaudreau, Gary Suter, Kent Nilsson, Guy Chouinard, Mark Giordano and Gary Roberts in the Flames 500 Club.

Ask anyone in the organization, and they’ll tell you he wears the captaincy well.

“He has that calming demeanor, where he’s able to galvanize everyone, and when we need a kick in the butt he’s there to make sure things don’t slip,” said alternate captain Chris Tanev.

“There has definitely been a lot of noise around the Calgary Flames, and just keeping us focused on the goal is the most important thing, and he’s done a good job.”

To no one’s surprise.

“You see over the years what he’s got in him,” said Huska, who was his junior coach in Kelowna in 2008. 

“He’s wanted it the last few years and now he feels like this is his time, and I think he’s taking a lot of pride in how he’s working to change certain things around the room.

“I’ve been very impressed.”

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