Bruins analysis: The pros and cons of another year of David Backes in Boston

Bruins analysis: The pros and cons of another year of David Backes in Boston

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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Talking Points from the B's 4-3 overtime loss to the Leafs

Talking Points from the B's 4-3 overtime loss to the Leafs

Here are Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 4-3 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs Saturday night in Toronto.

GOLD STAR: Mitch Marner once again played the role of Bruins killer setting up the overtime game-winner and a very strong game overall. Marner fired one past a tiring B’s trio on the final play of the game and finished with two assists, four shots on net, two hits and five takeaways while playing strong hockey at both ends of the ice. It was interesting to see the Leafs load up with Marner and Auston Matthews on one line to combat what the Bruins are doing with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak and it worked out in their favor on Saturday night. Marner now has five goals and 19 points in 13 games along with a plus-9 rating against the Black and Gold, and that doesn’t even count the damage he’s done in the playoffs.

BLACK EYE: Sean Kuraly had a rough night. He fumbled around with the puck in the Bruins zone in a play that ended up leading to Toronto’s second goal and he had to be bailed out in the second period when another D-zone turnover led to a quality scoring chance for Tyson Barrie. Kuraly finished with a minus-1 in 14:12 of ice time while landing just one shot on net, committing the two giveaways and generally fighting the puck all night when it was on his stick. He did finish with five hits so at least he came around with some physicality while realizing that other parts of his game were not good, but it wasn’t a banner night at all for Kuraly and the B’s fourth line.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins had a gassed unit on the ice toward the end of the 3-on-3 OT as Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle and Torey Krug were left out against Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner, and that’s really the kind of scenario where the Maple Leafs are going to enjoy a pretty big advantage. So predictably the Leafs waited out the Bruins trio and then scored with Mitch Marner’s shot getting deflected by Morgan Rielly into the back of the net for the OT game-winner. The 60-minute regulation game was very entertaining with back-and-forth from both teams as one has come to expect over the last few years, and felt more like a midseason game than something just a couple of weeks into a new year.

HONORABLE MENTION: The Bruins were riding David Pastrnak, who finished with a big game-tying goal toward the end of the third period to force things into overtime. The goal gave the Bruins a hard-fought point and gave Pastrnak his NHL-leading ninth goal of the season as he continues to be red-hot to start the season. Pastrnak finished with a goal, two points, five shot attempts and a couple of hits and a blocked shot while overcoming five giveaways in a game where the puck was on his stick quite a bit. It was the sizzling short side one-timer in the final five minutes of the third period, though, that registers as the biggest play of the game for the Bruins. The nine goals and 15 points in eight games is something else.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the first goal of the season for Jake DeBrusk after scoring late in the first period, a development that the Bruins hope leads to a hot streak for the left winger. Truth be told DeBrusk could have had two or three goals based on the chances he was getting, but he’ll take busting out of his slump.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It was nice. You don’t want to rely on the top guys every night. Obviously they’ve been on fire but the rest of us also want to chip in.” –Danton Heinen, who also supplied some offense with his PP goal at the start of the third period.

HAGGERTY: Two low-cost options for B's scoring woes>>>

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Highlights from the Bruins' 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs

Highlights from the Bruins' 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs

FINAL SCORE: Leafs 4, Bruins 3

IN BRIEF: The Bruins secondary scorers stepped up against the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they came back from a 2-0 deficit with goals from Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen. After going down again, David Pastrnak and the Perfection Line struck to tie it up in the final five minutes, but the team would go on to lose in overtime.


BRUINS RECORD: 5-1-2 (12 points)









vs. Maple Leafs, Tuesday, 7 p.m., NESN

HAGGERTY: Two low-cost options for B's scoring woes>>>

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