When Bruce Cassidy said a couple of weeks ago that David Backes wouldn’t be reporting to Providence until after the NHL All-Star break and bye week, it was the first, fleeting indication the Bruins power forward might not be playing in the minors after all.
That was confirmed on Thursday as Bruins GM Don Sweeney released a statement saying that both the team and the 35-year-old Backes were in agreement he wouldn’t be playing in the AHL at this point in time after being waived a couple of weeks ago.
“After speaking with David, we have agreed that it is in the best interest of David and the Bruins for him not to play in Providence at this time,” said Sweeney. “David is fit and able to play, but in order to preserve all potential options for both David and the Bruins moving forward, we have decided this is the best course of action.”
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So to sum up, Backes will keep getting paid by the Bruins on the $6 million a year contract he signed in 2016, he will not be playing for the P-Bruins for the foreseeable future despite being fully healthy, he won’t be retiring and he won’t be suspended by the team either. At first blush it would appear Backes out-and-out refused to play in the AHL and the Bruins are giving him some space without consequences after waiving him for ineffective play.
But that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on here.
Instead it feels like the Bruins are perfectly fine with Backes not playing, and don’t want to take the chance he might suffer an injury that would prevent him from getting dealt ahead of next month’s trade deadline. Surely the Bruins would have to eat half his remaining contract in order to move him, and there would need to be something headed in the other direction to sweeten the deal.
But there are some NHL teams that are already on record with a willingness to take on extra salary in the short term this season. One of these teams is the Anaheim Ducks with roughly $3.6 million in open cap space, and players like solid right winger Ondrej Kase and rugged D-man Josh Manson who would fit big-time needs for the Boston Bruins.
Clearly any deal involving Backes, Kase and/or Manson would also require significant assets moving to Anaheim from the Bruins, and it’s still up in the air what Boston would be offering aside from their own first round pick.
That would be the premium cost for the Ducks taking Backes’ money off their hands. But an expanded trade would clearly be more than B-level prospects from Providence given both what Boston would be sending and what would be coming back in return.
It’s been no secret that Anaheim has scouted the Bruins pretty closely in recent months leading up to the deadline, and vice-versa with Bruins Director of Player Development Jamie Langenbrunner spotted scouting a Kings/Ducks game in early December.
Real Talk: Anaheim is a franchise currently going nowhere and the Ducks certainly could be in the market for some of Boston’s younger players deemed expendable, and supporting players like Kase and Manson would be much better served on a contending team like Boston.
So a fairly big deal between the two franchises would make sense on multiple levels.
If things don’t work out and Backes isn’t dealt by the trade deadline, though, then perhaps at that point he would report to the AHL and begin playing for the P-Bruins. Perhaps he’d even be a hand on deck in the playoffs if the Bruins needed veteran forward depth as they did a few times in last year’s postseason. It’s not a lock that his days are done with the Bruins despite him sitting things out right now, but it sure feels like Backes isn’t walking back through those TD Garden doors again.
Backes had just one goal and three points in 16 games along with a minus-3 rating while averaging just 8:33 of ice time this season, and he wasn’t playing a particularly physical role either after suffering another concussion after a nasty collision with Scott Sabourin in November. The Bruins decided in the days following the embarrassing lack of response to Tuukka Rask getting concussed in Columbus that they needed some competition on the NHL roster, and that meant waving goodbye to Backes and Brett Ritchie while calling up Karson Kuhlman and Jeremy Lauzon.
Backes was a former captain and All-Star level forward with the St. Louis Blues, and he brought hard-nosed play and veteran leadership to a Bruins dressing room yearning for both when he was signed to a five-year, $30 million contract.
“The situation I’m not going to comment on because I don’t know the whole perspective of it,” said Patrice Bergeron, when asked about the situation with Backes. “Obviously he had a huge impact on and off the ice. Off the ice with the way he’s handled himself as a leader, I’ve learned from it. So we’ve all learned from him, we’re great friends and we wish him all the best.”
But the $30 million contract handed out to Backes will be long remembered as the worst contract for Sweeney since he took over as GM of the Bruins. It’s no stretch to call it a hindrance to the Black and Gold over the last few seasons as an aging Backes has lost any effectiveness at the NHL level, and one can only wonder how things might have been different last June if the Bruins had one more impact forward in their lineup while Backes was serving as a healthy scratch for the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final.
None of this is Backes’ fault, of course, and he played and practiced like a true professional during his time in Boston.
Thursday’s announcement from Sweeney just adds another odd chapter to a Backes stint in Boston that was pretty much doomed as soon as he signed with them as a 32-year-old unrestricted free agent.