Countdown to Camp: David Backes
From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: David Backes.
The biggest single difference between this upcoming group of Bruins and last season’s disappointing bunch is the 32-year-old former captain of the St. Louis Blues. David Backes is a big, physical, hard-hitting force who's also a thoughtful leader and an offense producer, and will undoubtedly help Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci absorb some of the heavy minutes at crunch time of games. He will help this season, and he’s the kind of kick-ass player that Boston most definitely needed. But he’s not a defenseman, and he’s more the kind of player you add to a team in its Cup window, rather than a team that’s been in reload mode for the last two years.
What happened last year
Backes finished his 10-year run with the Blues by scoring 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games while topping 19 minutes of ice time per game, and once again served as the tone-setter for a St. Louis team that finally had a deepish run through the playoffs. He took all the tough faceoffs, played against the other team’s best players and was one of the go-to guys for one of the best teams in the NHL last season. It was undoubtedly a good year for Backes, but it was also down a bit from his best seasons with the Blues. That is a natural opening for people to wonder whether he's showing signs of wear and tear after suiting up for 700-plus games in the NHL, and that’s a perfectly legit question for a 32-year-old. But Backes showed last season -- by playing his hard-nosed, productive and uncompromising game -- that he’ll be an excellent player for the B’snow, and probably for a couple of years to come.
Questions to be answered this season
Backes will bring his trademark physicality and intensity, and will replace some, but not all, of the offense that walked away from Causeway Street when Loui Eriksson signed with the Vancouver Canucks. But the question is what position he’ll do it from as a natural center who would appear to be destined for the third line with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci already in place on the Boston roster. The Bruins plan to employ him as the third-line pivot to start games, and then slide him up with Bergeron and Brad Marchand at crunch time to form an air-tight power line that can close down leads at the end of games. It remains to be seen how Backes will adjust to something that will require a little more versatility out of his game, and the bigger question is whether he can maintain his punishing style of play as he gets older. Will there be obvious signs of decline in his first season with the Bruins, or is that something to look out for a couple of years down the line? Blues GM Doug Armstrong said part of the reason he didn’t re-sign Backes was concern about the latter years in a long-term deal, and that will be Boston’s biggest item to watch with an obviously established elite player in Backes. To his credit, Backes is ready to answer this question with aplomb once the season gets going.
In their words
“Well from my time playing against Boston and the history of the team, it’s a blue-collar, hard-nosed, don't-take-crap-from-anybody type of team, and that’s the way that I feel I’ve built my game in 10 years in the league. I think that it should be a seamless fit to fill the few holes or deficiencies that, through the interview process, were identified, and continue to be strengths of mine in all facets of the game – five-on-five, power play, penalty kill. It just seemed like an awesome fit hockey-wise.”
–David Backes, on his feelings about fitting in with the current group of Bruins players next season and beyond.
This season should be one for Bruins fans to get excited regarding Backes. He hits, he fights, he leads with words and actions, he plays a heavy game in all zones and he can put the puck in the net. This is the kind of player Bruins fans have typically adored over the years, and Backes should fit right in with what this B’s fan base demand The idea of Backes playing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand during the crunch time portions of games is a pretty intoxicating one after watching No. 37 and No. 63 dominate the World Cup competition while playing together on Team Canada with another elite center in Sidney Crosby. The Bruins have needed players with stronger personalities and authentic voices in recent seasons with the losses of players like Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton and Johnny Boychuk, and the belief here is that Backes can be that kind of a guy. The questions about his game revolve around his third, fourth and fifth seasons with the Bruins on a five-year, $30 million contract, but this season should be another stellar one for Backes provided he remains healthy through the year. That’s something he hasn’t much trouble while never playing less than 72 games in any of his full NHL seasons.