Backes hopes to be better after 'humbling' first season in Boston

Backes hopes to be better after 'humbling' first season in Boston

BOSTON – For those looking for more out of David Backes next season after a decent first year in Boston, the 32-year-old power forward agrees with you. The 17 goals and 38 points in 74 games amounted to something close to the offensive output one should expect from a big, strong forward like Backes willing to mix it up around the net, and Backes certainly embraced the physical aspects of the game on many nights. 

Backes also finished up strong with a couple of goals during the playoffs and a really nice chemistry with Sean Kuraly in the final couple of games against the Senators, but he never fully clicked with David Krejci as his center. The veteran forward and former St. Louis Blues captain admitted all of the above while mentioning how challenging it turned out to be getting used to a new NHL home after previously playing in St. Louis for his entire pro career. 

“[There were] obstacles that I faced personally and observations I made with this team being the new guy for the first time and having to learn 22 new teammates, and it’s 35 or 40 when you consider the guys moving up and down, what their tendencies are and character-wise what they’re bringing, and how they go about their day-to-day business. That goes for the coaching staff, training staff, security and PR people, and it’s a lot to take in all at once rather than knowing everybody and having a new face or two that you have to learn,” said Backes, during Bruins break-up day last week. “It was humbling. I know there are a lot of guys that change teams on the regular, and it’s a task certainly. I’ve got a lot more respect for those guys now. 

“I was also fortunate how the group of guys, and the group of wives, here embraced me and my wife coming into this own and this organization. They were willing to help with whatever we needed, and willing to be kind enough to lend their knowledge so we could assimilate right away. Those efforts weren’t falling on empty hearts and it meant a lot to us. We hope to do that with the next group that comes in and form an even tighter bond with the group that’s already here.”

Certainly it will be an interesting offseason for Backes to watch how things develop for him after a season spent ostensibly playing right wing alongside Krejci. He made no secret of the fact that he would have liked to play center a little more than he did in his first season in Boston, and perhaps he would make a good man in the middle for a bigger, stronger third line next season. He’ll have a little more knowledge of his teammates no matter which position he ends up playing up front next season, and he’ll hope to stay even healthier after an elbow procedure and a concussion sidelined him on a couple of occasions this past season. 

Clearly the leadership component was there and Backes was one of the few Bruins players that consistently camped around the net all season, so the B’s got the player they envisioned when they signed him to a five year, $30 million deal last season. That was a sentiment echoed by Cam Neely when the Bruins President addressed the media this week at the season-ending presser with B’s ownership and upper management. 

There was plenty to like about what Backes brought to the table in areas where the Bruins needed more size and strength up front, but it will continue to be a bit of an odd signing given that the organization is pushing speed, youth and up-tempo attack as their long term mandates. 

“From leadership qualities, you talked to players and realized how much of an impact he had on young and older guys, and I think playoffs, I think he would have become even more impactful as playoffs went along, if we continued to play — that’s just the type of player he is, in every inch, how valuable it is,” said Neely. “It was a big transition. He was very honest in saying he was overwhelmed with moving from a place where he had been very well established, had a very identifiable role as captain and a relationship with the coach. All those things are moving parts that he admitted openly that it was a little overwhelming at times, despite everybody doing what they can to make him comfortable. 

“He was very grateful and happy that the wives and girlfriends helped his own wife and family adjust [to Boston]. I think that David will be an even better player for us going forward. I thought his production was pretty good overall. [He] played a couple of different roles and situations, sees himself probably staying on the wing, but can certainly provide the depth up the middle of the ice, depending on how the lineup looks and who emerges. We’re happy to have him.”

So Backes should be a little better in Boston in his second season just based on the comfort and confidence factor, but there’s also an awareness that the clock is ticking a little bit on the veteran forward as well. Backes won’t be getting any faster, any more explosive or any healthier as he moves into the middle and final years of his five year contract with the Black and Gold, so maximizing the front years of the deal needs to be a must for both player and team. 

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

It might have caused a ripple when Ryan Donato wasn’t on the ice on Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis for Bruins practice on the day after his brilliant, three-point NHL debut for the Black and Gold. But the 21-year-old Donato was still back in the Boston area fulfilling some class requirements at Harvard University to help him close out the current semester properly, and not lose the credits that will keep him in line with fulfilling his junior year at Harvard University.

Believe it or not, the schoolwork is important to the newest member of the Boston Bruins and he intends to study and hit the books on his road trips, and also intends to take classes in the summertime to still graduate on time next season.

“I’m planning on finishing the semester academically. I want to finish the semester academically,” said Donato, after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena prior to last night’s debut vs. Columbus. “Obviously it’s going to be something that’s difficult, but for me it was a dream to graduate from Harvard. I’m putting that off a little bit, but I need to be able to finish this semester in order to have that opportunity, and not put it off for another couple of years. I want to finish out the semester.”

Donato is also still living in the Harvard dorms while “moonlighting” as an NHL hockey player for the rest of the season, but that isn’t all so uncommon among some of the college players that leave school early. Charlie McAvoy was similarly living in the Boston University dorms last spring through Boston’s playoff run, and didn’t clear out of his college living situation until after the Black and Gold had been eliminated by the Ottawa Senators last April.

Missing practices on an NHL schedule is certainly a new one with, Donato, however, and takes the student-athlete concept to a whole new level for somebody that's already turned pro. One has to expect this was one of the things being discussed in full when the Donato family, Ryan's agent and the Bruins discussed his contract terms over the weekend before coming to an agreement.

Along with Donato, who is scheduled to fly into St. Louis and play against the Blues on Wednesday night, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk, Rick Nash and Torey Krug were all missing from the ice at Tuesday’s team practice ahead of a four game road trip against Western Conference opponents.


Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

File photo

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while not really digging these forecasts of more snow.

*You know, if he weren’t making millions and millions of dollars I might actually feel bad for ol' Claude Julien up in Montreal busting out the “We’re not a very good team” soliloquy with the Habs. That team flat out stinks this season and these past few weeks it can’t be fun at all being the head coach of that dumpster fire.

*Darren Dreger says there is no rush for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring back Auston Matthews before he’s ready to go, and that’s absolutely the case so close to the playoffs.

*Here are five Hart Trophy-caliber players that won’t get a sniff of the voting, but deserve some attention nonetheless. There are no Bruins players on the list if you’re wondering, but some pretty good ones in Johnny Gaudreau and Aleksander Barkov.

*The NHL general managers are weighing potential changes to the goalie-interference interpretation ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

*While it still looks a Swedish defenseman is going to be the No. 1 overall pick this June, there are some other players rocketing up the list.

*For something completely different: The definitive ranking of Girl Scout cookies from best-to-worst that we’ve all been waiting for.

*Song of the Week: Haven’t done one of these in a long, long time, but I like this Calvin Harris/Katy Perry/Pharrell Williams tune that I hadn’t heard until the past couple of days.