Bruins place veteran David Backes on waivers for AHL assignment

Bruins place veteran David Backes on waivers for AHL assignment

The Bruins made a minor shockwave Wednesday when they placed Brett Ritchie on waivers in the wake of an embarrassing loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Now a much bigger move with more seismic shockwaves has arrived, as the Bruins have also placed David Backes on waivers for the purpose of sending him down to the AHL affiliate Providence Bruins for assignment.

It’s a move that’s been a possibility since the summer, as the 35-year-old Backes holds a $6 million cap hit and is nowhere close to the player the Bruins expected to get when they signed him to a free agent contract three years ago.

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Backes has not been present at the Bruins practice facility for the last couple of days and had a curiously-termed a maintenance day Thursday even though he's barely played over the last few weeks. 

Instead Backes has just one goal and three points in 16 games along with a minus-2 rating this season while averaging just 8:35 of ice time, and he’s understandably been a bit hesitant to play an overly physical game after he suffered another concussion earlier this season.

Bruce Cassidy referenced this along with Kevan Miller's injury to Kevan Miller as developments that have adversely impacted Boston’s ability to play the rugged, physical game that many expect the team to employ on a regular basis. 

“We’ve tried to change our roster – that’s [general manager Don Sweeney] and I both – we’ve had discussions on who we’ve drafted,” said Cassidy, explaining the team’s mindset at building their roster with a mix of skill and toughness. “You draft skill guys like [Anders] Bjork, [Danton] Heinen, [Jake] DeBrusk and you can put [Pastrnak] in that mix too because he’s that type of a skill player and that’s the direction we’ve tried to go while keeping – obviously [Zdeno] Chara is more than tough – the Kevan Millers of the world. [He] happens to be injured and that’s a tough one. Connor Clifton is a guy that gives us some bite sometimes [but] he’s injured.

“We’ve tried to keep certain guys in the lineup. Chris Wagner is a physical player, [David] Backes had some of that in him, but he gets concussions a little bit and now we’re talking about what level is he going to be able to go for his personal health? I think we’ve tried to balance it. But if it’s out there [that there was a lack of response], people have a right to say it.”

Backes had just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games last season for the Bruins, and was a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his former St. Louis Blues team last June.

The move will remove roughly $1 million of his overall $6 million cap hit from the Bruins books once Backes has been dropped to Providence, and that will free the B’s up to make any number of roster moves ahead of the NHL trade deadline next month.

It’s expected that Backes is going to clear through waivers without being claimed and there’s a very distinct possibility that he’ll be bought out of the final year of a contract that really didn’t work out for the Bruins since his arrival in Boston. 

NHL odds: This team is Stanley Cup betting favorite despite Bruins' dominance


NHL odds: This team is Stanley Cup betting favorite despite Bruins' dominance

The Boston Bruins have the best record in the NHL entering Monday, but several sportsbooks do not view the defending Eastern Conference champions as the betting favorite to win the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the Stanley Cup favorites at +500 odds at DraftKings Sportsbook. The Bruins are not too far behind at +750. Here are DraftKings' latest Stanley Cup futures odds.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning: +500
2. Boston Bruins: +750
3. Colorado Avalanche: +850
4. St. Louis Blues: +1000
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: +1050
6. Washington Capitals: +1100
7. Dallas Stars: +1300
8. Vegas Golden Knights: +1300
9. Toronto Maple Leafs: +2000
10. Carolina Hurricanes: +2100

The Lightning are really good, and they're playing well at the perfect time. Tampa Bay has won 10 consecutive games to move within three points (with one less game played) of Boston for first place in the league, conference and the Atlantic Division. The Lightning also made a trade over the weekend to acquire New Jersey Devils forward Blake Coleman, who would've been a good fit on the Bruins.

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However, it's a little hard to trust the Lightning after last season's collapse. Tampa Bay enjoyed a historically dominant regular season but was swept in the first round in embarrassing fashion by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Bruins have a veteran core that knows how to win in the playoffs. Boston has made three Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2010, and this 2019-20 team might be its best over that stretch. The Bruins rank No. 6 in goals scored per game and No. 1 in goals against average. They are the most balanced team in the league, and their goaltending edge over the Lightning is impossible to ignore.

The Bruins are a decent value bet right now at +750. These are pretty good odds for a team leading the Presidents' Trophy race in mid-February. We also shouldn't sleep on the St. Louis Blues, who might actually be the best value bet at +1000. The defending champs haven't suffered through the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover and enter Monday tied atop the Central Division.

Haggerty: Bruins very much interested in Josh Anderson

Pressure mounting for Don Sweeney to make a power move for Bruins

Pressure mounting for Don Sweeney to make a power move for Bruins

The Boston Bruins have won nine of their last 10 games and have been the best version of themselves since coming back from the NHL All-Star break and bye week.

That’s the good news coming out of a weekend where they beat a couple of teams they should beaten in the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. 

Sunday afternoon's 3-1 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden pushed the B’s to 86 points for the season, three points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning and seven points ahead of everybody else in the league.

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But the Bruins did lose a key battle on Sunday when they missed out on a forward they were interested in, as the New Jersey Devils dealt Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a first round pick and top forward prospect Nolan Foote. 

The 28-year-old Coleman has been a thorn in the Bruins' side over the last couple of seasons and would have been an excellent fit for the B’s given his skating game, his grit and his pesky ability to be a factor on the penalty kill. He was also already signed for under $2 million for next season, so Coleman was a 20-goal scorer with a bargain-basement salary price for teams bumping up against the cap ceiling.

That’s undoubtedly part of the reason the Lightning paid a premium for him while beating the Boston to the punch for his services. 

The Bruins would have needed to deal a first round pick and Urho Vaakanainen as a comparable offer, though a first rounder and 2015 first round pick Jakub Zboril feels more like an offer the Bruins would have made for a player they were clearly interested in ahead of next Monday’s deadline. 

The bottom line: With Coleman now joining a Lightning team that’s only lost two regulation games since the Christmas break, Tampa Bay just got even better while remaining hot on the Bruins' heels in the Atlantic Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins also improved via their pre-emptive deadline deal with Minnesota for a skilled winger in Jason Zucker, who adds depth and scoring to a Pens team dealing with some injuries this season. 

Now Don Sweeney is on the clock in a big way for the Black and Gold and badly needs to pull off a deal that’s going to net the Bruins a top-6 winger ahead of next week’s trade deadline. The window is closing for a group with an aging core and now is the time just as it clearly is for teams like the Penguins and Lightning.

Chris Kreider is still at the top of Boston’s list of available impact wingers, while Columbus power forward Josh Anderson is a classic buy-low asset with just one goal this year after posting 27 goals and over 200 registered hits for the Blue Jackets last season.

There are others like Tyler Toffoli, Ilya Kovalchuk, Andreas Athanasiou, Sam Bennett and Mike Hoffman who may be dealt ahead of the deadline, and centers like Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Joe Thornton and Chris Tierney that would bring talent while also forcing the Bruins to rearrange their forwards like deck chairs in a situation that would be less-than-perfect.

The Bruins have now watched a pair of teams that they may face in the playoffs vastly improve, and the pressure is on Sweeney and Co. to match those acquisitions with a big upgrade of their own.

They may end up paying a bargain price (comparably speaking) by waiting a little bit to edge closer to the deadline, but the supply is also beginning to shrink as at least two of the available top-9 wingers are off the market with the early Zucker and Coleman deals going down. 

It's Sweeney’s turn to make a move. The sooner the better for a Bruins team that clearly needs another impact player on offense, and can’t afford to sit around and wait while their adversaries are making power moves.