Clearly it hasn’t gone as either David Backes or the Boston Bruins planned during his first three years with his free-agent team.
The regular season was nothing to write home about for the 35-year-old with seven goals and 20 points in 70 games while bouncing between different lines, different roles, and spending unfamiliar time as a healthy scratch toward the end of the season. It was the first time it had devolved to that point with the B’s for the former captain of the St. Louis Blues.
Then Backes was again a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final and clearly felt like the confidence within him organizationally had taken a hit while being left out of the most important games of the season.
“It was a culmination of uncertainty, feelings of possibilities, potential opportunities with all sorts of things and missed opportunities,” said Backes. “It’s a swirl and a whirlwind of emotions that I haven’t fully gripped and I don’t know that I will in the near future. I don’t know if my situation and all of the extra layers helps or hurts. That’s my jumble of random thoughts.”
What does Backes mean by extra layers?
“Who our opponent was. Sitting out the last three games. Yeah, all of those sorts of things,” said Backes. “I had my exit meeting. They’re smart guys and they know that things are pretty raw. To dive too deep, we didn’t get there in our meetings. I probably had a better answer for you when I was in control of my future. I’m kind of in flux at the moment. I’ve got to trust in a bigger plan and that’s where I’m at.”
It all raises questions about Backes’ future with the team moving forward, and whether or not his long-term future will be in Boston. Even Backes himself seemed curious as to how it’s all going to play out this summer, but Don Sweeney sounded fairly certain this week that the veteran power forward is still a part of the team.
That would mean that a buyout of the final two years of Backes’ contract isn’t currently in the Black and Gold's gameplan.
“I don’t think any of our seasons ended the way we liked, to be honest with you. I think that we had a tremendous run. [Backes] was a big part of that, reinserted back in in Game 2 against Toronto where he elevated our physical play. You know, was a big part of our hockey club, on and off the ice. So where it fits going forward, he’s a part of our hockey club,” said Don Sweeney. “I have [trade] discussions on different players. He may or may not be a part of that, but for the most part, he’s a part of our hockey club.
“His impact is again up to Bruce [Cassidy] and up to David in terms of, from a production standpoint, he might be referencing that or from a leadership standpoint we know what he brings. I think there’s value there.”
It all makes sense given that there wouldn’t be much cap savings for the Bruins if they were to buy out Backes this summer. He also remains important in terms of a big-bodied, strong power forward who can intimidate from time to time, and as a veteran vocal leader who brings a different personality inside the Bruins' leadership structure.
That won’t preclude the Bruins from discussing potential trade scenarios if Boston could get out from under a contract that’s never been favorable. But it feels like it’s going to be a longshot for any team willing to take on the final two seasons of Backes in his mid-30’s unless the Bruins are likewise looking to take on another unwieldy contract in return.
That really isn’t going to put the Bruins in a better cap situation, and there’s no guarantee the replacement player will be the same kind of solid pro that Backes has been over the last three seasons.
The Bruins are running under the premise that Backes is going to be back once again next season and will be filling out a role in the bottom-6 as a third- or fourth-line winger. He could most definitely add some toughness to that role and be that veteran, hard-nosed player willing to stick up for his teammates in time of need.
It was something he embraced toward the end of the regular season and something the Bruins needed out of their forward group.
“I thought he best fit in with [Sean] Kuraly / [Noel] Acciari / [Joakim] Nordstrom, in that type of role. At the end of the day, when [Chris] Wagner, Acciari were all healthy, there was competition for those spots, so sometimes he was in there, sometimes he wasn’t,” said Sweeney. “That’s where I see his best contribution to the team. At times he can move up in the lineup and give you some grit, a net-front presence, but in general, that’s where he played his best hockey for us. So, we’ll have to see how it all shakes out.”
Clearly the offense isn’t what it once was for Backes, and expecting him to ever get back to the 20-goal, 50-point season he reached with the Blues isn’t going to happen again in his NHL career. But it sounds like there is still going to be a role for Backes on the Bruins for at least next season, and the Bruins will need to find a way to work around the $6 million cap hit for next year while trying to squeeze the most out of his current ability level.
That will be a challenge, but the B’s also were able to get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final this season even with Backes, while still bringing some positive value, clearly not able to live up to the contract he signed three years ago.
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