BRIGHTON, Mass – Coming off a season that clearly wasn’t his best in his first year with the Bruins, power forward David Backes, 33, is looking for things to get a little better this season in Boston.
It wasn’t that bad for the 6-foot-3, 221-pounder. He finished with 17 goals and 38 points in 74 games and most nights provided a physical presence, solid leadership and a big body willing to pay the price around the net. Other nights it looked like Backes was a thirty-something NHL player trying to keep pace with a younger, faster league, and didn’t quite have the skating legs he’s going to need to keep up with everybody else.
With that in mind, Backes said he made a conscious decision to change his offseason workouts this summer and go from a football training-type size/strength regimen to something built more around skating and superior conditioning. That alteration, combined with settling into life in Boston off the ice, has Backes enthused that he’s going to improve from last season and push closer to the 20-goal, 50-point player he’s been in the past.
“Coming back here my wife made a lot of friends over the last year, we’re all settled into our house and we’re just living. That’s an awesome feeling to know all of that is checked off the list, and I can just go out and play the game. I can really be more concentrated on what’s going on here, and being a bigger factor in us winning more games. That’s what it’s all about,” said Backes. “My whole summer was totally different. I’d be training more like a football player with heavy weights in previous summers, but this year it was a lot more functional, speed-training with a lot more work done on the ice than previously.
“I think it’s partly because I’m getting older, and partly because the game itself is evolving into a faster, quicker, less chipping it in and grinding it out kind of game. While I still love that part of the game and hopefully it can still be incorporated, you also need to be able to get up and down the ice, win races to the puck and be able to make plays. I tried to incorporate training with that in mind.”
It still remains to be seen whether a sleeker, slightly quicker Backes is going to spend the season on the wing or back at his natural center position. He said he's discussed both options as possibilities with the Bruins, but a lot of it depends on how things develop in training camp with a slew of third-line center candidates including Ryan Spooner, Sean Kuraly and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson among others.
“There have been a few talks on the phone about what I’m thinking, and about what the coaches are thinking. It’s been good dialogue, but I don’t think we’re going to know what the case is until the puck is dropped on opening night,” said Backes. “That being said, I’m open to trying whatever and they’re open to being flexible with wing or center. It’s kind of like what we had in the playoffs with Kuraly and myself where he’s a younger kid that’s capable of playing center and maybe has a little bit more wheels than I do. But he needs help on face-offs, or there are times in defensive coverage where it’s better for me down low late in the game with a lead.
“Alex Steen and I kind of did something like that in St. Louis for a while. He was a lefty and could take draws on the left-hand side, and I was a righty taking draws on the right side. You always have that advantage on your strong side. So we’ll tinker with that a little bit and see how things play out in training camp. That’s kind of why you have a training camp to get a look at those new kinds of things.”
Is the new training going to allow Backes to somehow discover the fountain of hockey youth?
That’s doubtful given his age, with the 800-plus NHL games of hard-nosed play already on his resume. Backes is understandably going to get slower rather than faster over the course of his B’s career, with some real challenges when the schedule spits out back-to-back games or those stretches where the Bruins play three games in four days.
But there should be some optimism that Backes can still have at least one more quality season for the Bruins before age really begins to creep in over the final few years of his five-year deal with the Black and Gold. This should be one of those quality seasons, particularly when considering how Backes altered his offseason workouts to streamline his big man’s skating and speed game while retaining the size and strength at the heart of his hockey tools.
The really good news is that the toughness, the tenaciousness and the competitiveness in Backes’ game will all continue to be there and set the right kind of example for a young crop of forwards getting ready to complement him up front this season.