2018 NHL Free Agent Watch: Joe Thornton and Mikael Backlund

2018 NHL Free Agent Watch: Joe Thornton and Mikael Backlund

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2018 NHL free agent watch: Joe Thornton and Mikael Backlund
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

While the Sharks got off to a bit of a slow start, their seven wins in the last ten games has their record at a decent 8-6-0.

Jumbo has again played a key role as a distributor with eight assists to accompany two goals and a team-leading 18 penalty minutes.

At age 38, this franchise cornerstone may not be the force he once was, but as the club tests out Joonas Donskoi as a replacement for AHL-bound Kevin Labanc on their top line, Thornton has once more been productive next to staple Joe Pavelski.

Now in his 13th year with the squad, 20th in the league, and recently becoming the 14th player in NHL history to hit 1,400 points, San Jose won’t let him walk next year unless his production falls off the table or his demands become unreasonable.

In albeit a short sample size, the Sharks may be engaging in a bit of preventative maintenance as Thornton received a greater percentage of sheltered minutes in the campaign’s first month seeing 64.52% offensive zone starts.

That’s up from recent history which has him hovering around 50% and includes a slight uptick to 54.14% and 55.66% in the last two years.

Thornton is still killing it in the faceoff circle though with a 57.2% success rate, 14th in the league among those with 80 or more wins.

And a solid 5.0 CF% rel shows he’s still having a great impact on the ice for San Jose.

On a one-year, $8 M contract, there likely will be less expensive options out there but the Sharks community, and probably brass, would like to see him stay in teal as long as he’s on the ice.

Unless he gets a hankering to play nearer his Ontario home or retire, or if the Sharks fully embrace a rebuild, I’d imagine another short deal this summer near the same $8 M mark would be likely.

2018 NHL free agent watch: James Neal and Paul Stastny 

Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames

A cornerstone on Calgary’s vaunted 3-M line, Backlund is registering about the same offensive numbers we’ve seen over the past two years.

Skating next to Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk, his 0.63 points-per-game pace is right near last year’s 0.65 and the previous campaign’s 0.57, giving us steady expectations for his offensive output.

In his tenth year with the Flames, if we include one game in 2008-09, Backlund’s been a key piece in the Saddledome that Calgary would most likely seek to retain.

The Backlund – Frolik – Tkachuk trio generates a great deal of production while laboring hard in their own zone.

Backlund’s 38.2% offensive zone start numbers indicate an early, small increase over last year’s 35.5%, but continue to reveal two-way value that’s rare for a 50-point, potentially 60-point player.

With a career 5.2 CF% rel in southern Alberta, and a 7.1 CF% rel thus far in 2017-18 which, if the season ended today, would be his second-best full-year mark. I’d bank on the Flames doing their best to retain him.

As a young vet on an even younger squad (477 NHL games, all in a Flames jersey) and a big part of what’s going right in Calgary these days, expect a re-sign with a market-dependent increase topping this year’s $3.575M salary.

2018 NHL free agent watch: John Tavares and John Carlson 

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