Bruins

Hindsight 2020: David Backes' Bruins contract costly in too many ways

Hindsight 2020: David Backes' Bruins contract costly in too many ways

If there’s one move that Don Sweeney can be fairly and vigorously quaestioned for from the semi-recent past, it’s the signing of David Backes to a costly albatross of a five-year, $30 million contract during the summer of 2016.

It’s not the only second-guess opportunity when it comes to Sweeney running the Bruins, of course, but that’s the same story with every other general NHL manager in the 31 organizations.

It should be noted the B’s general manager has also led the franchise to an impressive run as one of the best teams in the NHL over the last four seasons and has done it while focusing largely on the draft-and-development component.

But there are some well-worn blemishes to be sure.

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There’s the 2015 NHL Draft, obviously, when the Bruins missed on two out of three picks in the first round by taking Jakob Zboril and Zach Senyshyn in a loaded draft class. That decision continues to sting. Or the initial moves later in the summer of 2015 to acquire Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes and Zach Rinaldo in a futile attempt to bring physicality to a Bruins team that had dealt Milan Lucic at the draft.

We’ll give Sweeney a mulligan for that entire first year, though, as he navigated the first season on the job, asserted himself as the final decision-maker on hockey operations decisions and attempted to transition a once-great-but-aging hockey club weighed down by some ill-advised contracts.

As of late, it’s been much more difficult to pinpoint obvious Bruins mistakes as they have developed young star players like Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk and pushed all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

But one could make an easy argument the Bruins might have won Game 7 last summer against the St. Louis Blues if they’d utilized that $6 million in cap space for a more effective player than the 35-year-old Backes.

The aging Backes went through his worst NHL season last year with seven goals and 20 points in 70 games while showing consistent difficulties in keeping up with the NHL pace. Then he was in and out of the lineup in the playoffs before serving as a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Cup Final in favor of a player in Karson Kuhlman who's managed just four goals and 11 points in 36 career NHL games.

Clearly the summer of 2016 wasn’t a good one for the NHL free agent market when the Bruins were tossing around their big money.

Backes was a beyond-his-prime bust. Loui Eriksson has been consistently terrible for the Vancouver Canucks. Milan Lucic hasn’t been the same as he was in his best years with the Bruins and has switched teams from Edmonton to Calgary in that time period. Andrew Ladd and Troy Brouwer were respective free agents busts for their new NHL teams as well.

In hindsight, the Bruins would have been better off simply holding off on spending the money that summer, and instead waiting until the right fit came along for them rather than wasting valuable cap space on an aging power forward incapable of posting the hard-hitting 20-goal/50-point seasons that he did in his best years with the Blues.

A more effective top-6 winger than Backes or Kuhlman certainly would have made a bigger impact in the seven-game series against the Blues last postseason, and would have left the Bruins without a massive top-6 winger void over the last few seasons. It’s a roster imperfection that, to this point, still hasn’t been properly addressed by the Bruins front office after a massive swing-and-miss on Backes.

Insult was added to the salary cap injury just a couple of months ago when the Bruins needed to part with their 2020 first round pick, sending it to Anaheim, in order to free themselves of the odious Backes contract for next season. On top of it all, the Bruins were forced to still eat a portion of the Backes deal ($1.5 million) for next year even after coughing up a valuable first round pick in the Backes/Ondrej Kase swap with the Ducks.

The Bruins assumed they would get at least a couple of good seasons from Backes at the beginning of the $30 million deal where he would be a big, strong, versatile top-6 winger — or third line center — who would take weight off the shoulders of guys like Patrice Bergeron.

Instead, they spent premium dollars on a good man who may have been a consummate pro and an excellent leader within the Bruins dressing room, but on the ice was a hockey player already breaking down on the back nine of his NHL career.

The Bruins will still be paying that price for years to come with a 2020 first-round pick they no longer own and nothing to show for the big money they spent hoping Backes would hang onto his effectiveness in his mid-30s.

Sweeney and the B’s will probably know better the next time they are tempted with the same kind of quick-fix solution to their needs because, after all, hindsight is 20/20.

Patrice Bergeron issues statement, pledges donation after George Floyd's death

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USA TODAY Sports

Patrice Bergeron issues statement, pledges donation after George Floyd's death

Patrice Bergeron keeps a low profile off the ice, to the point where he doesn't have any social media accounts.

But the Boston Bruins center felt it was necessary to raise that profile following the murder of George Floyd.

Bergeron issued a statement Wednesday via the Bruins' Instagram and Twitter accounts reacting to a Minneapolis police officer's murder of an unarmed African-American man, which has sparked protests and cries for racial justice throughout the country.

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"As hockey players, we have a tendency to do our business while staying quiet, without wanting to make too much noise. It is our culture," Bergeron said in the statement. 

"But surrounding the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, it made me realize that by not speaking up on the matter, and not using my voice as a professional athlete, it’s in fact allowing racism to fester and continue. Silence is not an option for me anymore."

Bergeron also expressed a desire to "listen, educate myself and stand up for the Black community." The Bruins' alternate captain and Quebec native took action, as well, pledging donations of $25,000 each to the Boston branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the Centre Multienthnique de Quebec.

Bergeron joins fellow Bruins veteran Zdeno Chara and many other Boston athletes advocating for justice and racial equality in America after a video emerged of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, killing the 46-year-old unarmed man.

Why aren't Bruins players back skating yet? Here's what's 'gummed things up'

Why aren't Bruins players back skating yet? Here's what's 'gummed things up'

While NBA players on teams like the Boston Celtics began getting back to work at their practice facilities this week, Bruins players and their brothers across the NHL are still in a bit of a holding pattern when it comes to getting back into playing shape.

Some like 43-year-old Bruins captain Zdeno Chara have already traveled back to the Boston area to get ready for small, informal practices that will happen when the league moves to Phase 2 of the return-to-play program. Some others undoubtedly have found smaller, local rinks to at least get back on the ice and begin skating again while also still practicing social distancing.

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But the NHL doesn’t want a staggered opening of NHL practice facilities when some teams skating together earlier than others could give them a potential competitive advantage when it does come time to return to play.

What’s holding up the NHL at this point with so many states around the United States beginning to open back up things like athletic practice facilities?

In a nutshell, the NHL won’t let Phase 2 begin until all 31 teams can safely and legally open up their practice facilities and there are still complications with the Canadian cities when it comes to practicing, or when it comes to foreign-born players not being allowed to head back to Canada from other places around the world.

Until that changes, the NHL will still be on pause with July 10 as the earliest date being looked at when NHL training camps could start in earnest with a goal of returning to play in the 24-team tournament in late July/early August. That all could and should change over the next week or two, but there are no concrete indications when exactly it is going to happen.

“We need to find out and find out very quickly. It’s early June and the NHL and NHLPA have indicated that they want to initiate Phase 2 in early June. That’s now. I think we’re going to learn a lot this week and drifting into next week,” said TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger during an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call with his Ray & Dregs Hockey Podcast partner -- TSN Hockey Analyst Ray Ferraro -- earlier this week. “You talk to people around the league and players are already beginning to return to their NHL cities, so as soon as it’s safe to initiate Phase 2 they are going to do that. The tricky part is that Canada, and the seven Canadian teams, are holding things up a little bit. And that’s not on the NHL.

“Health Canada and the provincial officials and the federal government here in Canada are being incredibly careful. I’m appreciative of that and so is Ray [Ferraro]. We both live in Canada. But it’s gummed things up a little bit, no question about that, in terms of the NHL moving things forward.”

Ferraro, the longtime NHLer with 18 years in the league, including a memorable stint with the Hartford Whalers at the beginning of his career, likened the current NHL stage to the very beginnings of building an entire house.

“What I got from when we talked to the commissioner [on the Ray & Dregs Hockey Podcast] is that they’ve got this plan, but now it’s like if you’re building a house and you’ve poured the foundation and put the studs up,” said Ferraro. “Now they’re trying to fill in everything else inside the studs. Each time you finish one thing there is something else that comes up. Even just in the conversation we had, you start running ahead on what you need to accomplish just to get [the NHL] back as safely as possible… never mind whether you like the format or whether the Bruins as the best team in the season are getting the short end of the stick, which they kind of are ... but that doesn’t even matter right now.

It’s about can you even execute an incredibly complicated and detailed plan? For me that’s what this is about first and foremost, is can you even execute it?

The United States recently signed an order that made professional athletes essential workers, which enables them to travel back into the country from other areas of the world in order to return to their NHL cities.

The COVID-19 restrictions in Canada could also eliminate Canadian cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton from consideration when it comes to the two designated hub cities that the NHL narrowed down to 10 candidates last week when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the league’s return-to-play plan.

The best guess is that the NHL’s Phase 2 should begin in the next two weeks with groups of six NHL players on the ice at the same time in informal, voluntary settings, but stay tuned on exactly when that might happen for the Bruins and the other 23 teams still alive in the NHL's postseason format.