Flames extend analytics darling Mikael Backlund

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The line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland (Ferland for now?) probably ranks as the Calgary Flames’ most important forward trio. If you spend a little time on Hockey Twitter, you’ll probably come across someone gushing about “The 3M Line,” maybe more than the bigger guns.

(Aside: I really tried to get a Campbell’s Soup-inspired nickname for that line, but it never took off. Probably for the greater good?)

With the trade deadline looming, the Flames took a big step toward keeping that line intact, signing underrated center Mikael Backlund to a six-year, $32.1 million contract extension. He’ll go from carrying a $3.575M cap hit in the final year of his current deal to $5.35M from 2018-19 through 2023-24.

This keeps “The 3M Line” together through 2018-19, assuming the team doesn’t want to split them up at some point.

The most infamous member of the trio is the least tenured of the three: Matthew Tkachuk will see his rookie contract expire after 2018-19. Michael Frolik, meanwhile, receives $4.3M per season through 2019-20. Tkachuk isn’t likely to go anywhere, mind you, but his inevitable raise could make it tough to keep all three of those puck-hogging forwards on the same roster that also boasts Gaudreau, Monahan, and pricey blueliners like Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton.

Backlund, 28 (soon to be 29 as of March 17), is a solid piece even if you look at his scoring stats alone. The 24th pick of the 2007 NHL Draft is trying to make this his third consecutive 20-goal season, although he’s been limited to 10 in 58 games. (He’s made up the difference with 24 assists.)

If you look at his possession metrics, you’ll see that Backlund consistently tilts the ice in his team’s favor, even with heavy-to-drastic defensive usage.

Ultimately, he brings a nice mix of the subtle stuff that might slip under the radar:

With enough scoring punch that he jumps off the charts even when you’re not, well, looking at charts.

Naturally, this is an expensive contract, so there’s some risk involved. Even so, most seem happy with the deal from the Flames’ end:

If you take a look at their salary structure, there’s really a lot to like in Calgary. Now the Flames need to start putting it all together on the ice.

Once that really starts to build momentum, Backlund could be the sort of player who really makes the difference in a tough playoff series. That’s what the Flames are paying him for, really.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.