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.