It’s been assumed by most that the Bruins are going to need to make a salary cap relief-related trade once they’re able to sign restricted free agents, Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, over the next month or so.
But that might not be the harsh reality based on Boston’s injury situation coming off last spring’s 24-game playoff run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Both Kevan Miller (broken knee cap) and John Moore (shoulder surgery) were banged up when the Bruins broke up in mid-June and headed for long summer rehabs, and there have been hints all along that David Backes is battling some kind of undisclosed injury this summer.
Both general manager Don Sweeney and Bruins President Cam Neely made mention of a Backes injury in their end-of-season press conferences and it’s been very quiet when it comes to the 35-year-old power forward this summer.
“Backes has got something [injury-wise] he’s following up on,” said Sweeney back at his post-free agency press conference on July 1. “Down the road there could be [surgery]. He’s just taking some time now to allow everything to calm down, making sure.
“Moore and Miller both had surgery, so again, those are ranges in terms of return to play. Everything is up to the individual protocol of the player and how long he has to go through rehab. Same thing for Zdeno [Chara] and his elbow. It’s all likelihood that they will be following the timelines, but you have to make sure. We thought that originally with Kevan as well. You know, there’s always nuances, and you have to prepare for every different scenario.”
There’s really been no update on Backes’ health since that mention of an injury after he was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his former St. Louis Blues club. It’s no secret that Backes has suffered a series of concussions over the last couple of seasons, and a year ago his entire summer was about recovering from a head injury against Tampa Bay that ended his playoff season.
Could it be that Backes has been experiencing some kind of post-concussion symptoms this summer, or perhaps there’s some other kind of potentially serious injury at play with an aging winger coming off his worst NHL season with seven goals and 20 points in 72 games?
The latter is more likely than the former given Sweeney’s reference to surgery back in July 1, but all things are possible with a player in his mid-30’s who’s logged a ton of hard miles on a body that’s played 928 NHL games.
Whatever the case, an injury would be the best-case scenario when it comes to Backes and the Bruins. The 35-year-old forward has slowed down considerably over the last few seasons, and his current $6 million cap hit doesn’t fit the production level he’s settled into with the Black and Gold. A move to long-term injured reserve for Backes would solve all of Boston’s salary cap issues with the B’s currently sitting at about $7 million in cap space.
Backes being moved to LTIR would bump that number up to $13 million in cap space, and that would give the Bruins enough space to sign both McAvoy and Carlo when those deals are eventually done. It would also undoubtedly lead to plenty of scrutiny from the NHL given Backes’ declining production level and unwieldy cap hit, which would be a convenient time for a player like him to come up with a chronic injury situation.
Add the cap hits for Miller ($2.5 million) and Moore as well ($2.75 million) and the Bruins could have in the neighborhood of $19 million in cap space at the start of the NHL season while waiting for both D-men to heal from their injuries. Some have mentioned that Miller, in particular, could be another salary cap boon for the Bruins if he were injured long term as well, but that’s just plain foolish given how much they missed his physicality, toughness and defensive intensity against a big, strong physical St. Louis team in the Cup Final.
It’s been interesting that the Bruins haven’t seemed very concerned about their salary cap situation this summer for a team that’s still got two unsigned players. Perhaps we now know why based on the trail of evidence that any combination of Backes, Miller and Moore could be shelved on long-term injured reserve to start this season.
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