David Backes

As he recovers, David Backes has his mind on concussions

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As he recovers, David Backes has his mind on concussions

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- David Backes sounded healthy and happy on Thursday afternoon after getting through a second full practice with the Bruins since returning from a suspected concussion.

The 34-year-old has missed the last two weeks after taking a Matt Benning elbow to the jaw in Edmonton that went un-penalized and without any supplemental discipline from the Department of Player Safety.

The good news is that, barring any setbacks, Backes is set to return to the B’s lineup Saturday night in Nashville.

The less-encouraging news is that it’s the third concussion Backes has suffered since signing with the Bruins three years ago, and none of the head shots that caused them have merited any kind of supplemental discipline from the league. That’s a factoid that clearly bugs the power forward and Backes said as much when talking to reporters on Thursday afternoon once the dual subjects of concussions and head shots came up.

“You start piling them up and it’s not ever fun when or if you have a concussion. But you start piling them up and trying to work through it, and if you’re multiplying them on top of each other then it starts to get dangerous,” said Backes. “There’s a sensitivity level throughout the league and throughout the educated world that you don’t want to get hit in the head unnecessarily. It certainly is part of our game where you’re going to have contact to your head, but [the problem is] the unnecessary contact to the head when you have an opportunity to go through the body and have the same effect game-wise.

“It’s what is paramount to having the game changed, but in the three concussions that I’ve had [with the Bruins] there have been no suspensions on them. I think they were on the line if not over the line, and there’s been no secondary looks at them.”

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Clearly the subject of head shots, concussion and supplemental discipline is something that Backes has strong feelings about from a league perspective. But there’s a smaller, more individual worry that starts to come up with a seasoned, proven warrior in his mid-30’s like Backes, as he closes in on 900 regular-season games for his career. It’s the growing number of concussions he’s suffered over the course of a hard-hitting, physical hockey career, and the unknown that comes along with professional hockey players and the dangers of CTE.

Backes is intelligent, thoughtful and diligent when it comes to playing the game of hockey, and there’s no doubt he’s the same when it comes to his own long term health.

“I’ve done some research and I don’t know that there’s a direct link as to whether it’s 14, or 7, or 2 [concussions] there’s a direct link to degenerating, or getting the proteins in your head to start developing CTE,” said Backes. “There’s not enough evidence yet, but that being said not getting to that magic number is certainly something that I’d like to avoid.”

The reality is that Backes at his best played a big, strong and nasty brand of hockey that combined physicality with toughness around the front of the net. The NHL’s trend toward speed and skill certainly hasn’t done him any favors, and that’s probably reflected in the zero points in seven games for the Bruins thus far this season. But at 34 years old, Backes is also slowing down and becoming more of an attainable target for players like J.T. Miller and Matt Benning that have dealt him concussive blows in each of the last two seasons.

The Miller hit in the playoffs ended Backes’ postseason prematurely last spring, and the Benning hit kept Backes out for two plus weeks. It’s clearly good news that Backes can still bounce back from a head shot and the ensuing concussion, but it’s also beginning to become a situation where more head shots and concussions could start having more of a residual effect.

Backes is a proud warrior and the Bruins definitely need his size, his strength, his physicality and his leadership up front among a forward group that’s predominantly young and small. Maybe it’s that the Bruins need to respond with more vengeful authority when these hits happen as they have a few times this season. Maybe it’s the league that needs to step in and protect Backes the next time somebody throws the kind of head shot at Backes that he himself was suspended for the first time in his NHL career last season. Maybe at some point, Backes needs to play the game a little more protectively to make certain he’s not in those vulnerable spots where he can be targeted for head shots, though it’s easy to see that mindset could make him a lot less effective at his NHL gig.

The bottom line is that Backes is entering a stage in his NHL career where avoiding concussions might be one of the biggest keys to continued career longevity, but that’s a lot easier said than done.

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Charlie McAvoy (upper body) placed on IR in what appears to be a setback

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Charlie McAvoy (upper body) placed on IR in what appears to be a setback

While it looks like a return is imminent for David Backes from his upper body injury, the forecast is a little murkier for second-year D-man Charlie McAvoy after he was placed on injured reserve by the Bruins on Tuesday. Both Backes and McAvoy are suspected to be recovering from concussions. It's unclear exactly when the D-man suffered his injury, but both players went out of the lineup after the Bruins' Oct. 18 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

Both players skated in the morning prior to team practice last Saturday ahead of Boston’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens, but only Backes practiced with the team on Monday morning even though he's still out for tonight’s road tilt vs. the Carolina Hurricanes. Bruce Cassidy wouldn’t, or couldn’t, say on Monday whether it was a day off or a setback for McAvoy following his return to the ice, and the player himself had said last weekend that he thought he’d “turned the corner” from his injury.

Cassidy didn’t have many answers when asked about it by reporters in Carolina on Tuesday as well.

"When is he going to be healthy? When is he going to be back skating? When is he going to be back practicing?” said Cassidy. “I don't have a good answer for that right now."

Clearly the McAvoy move to IR, retroactive to Oct. 18, gives the Bruins roster flexibility with the D-man currently on the shelf, and he’s already missed the minimum three games played or one week that’s required for any stay on the IR. The move is more than simply about roster flexibility given that McAvoy isn’t skating, however, and given that the Bruins don’t seem to have a good handle on when he’s going to be able to return. 

It sure sounds like McAvoy had a setback in his recovery from the upper body injury, which many suspect dates all the way back to a hard hit the young defenseman received from Milan Lucic in Boston’s home win over the Oilers on Oct. 11. 

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Hagg Bag: Goalies, Backes and forward trade talk aplenty

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Hagg Bag: Goalies, Backes and forward trade talk aplenty

It’s another week and another Hagg Bag mailbag with the Bruins managing to get through a rash of injuries the past week and an interesting side story developing with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak between the pipes. As always these are real questions from our readers on Twitter using the #HaggBag hashtag, sending messages to my NBC Sports Boston Facebook page or emails to my @JHaggerty@nbcuni.com email account. Now on to the bag!

What do you think is the real reason/reasons Rask is underperforming? Are his best days behind him?

--Stewart-Allen Clark (@StewartAllenCl1)

JH: Well, he is 31, which is entering middle age for NHL players. But goalies tend to age a little more slowly than position players in the NHL, and Rask should still be able to perform at his highest level for extended periods of time. I just don’t think he’s a true No. 1 goalie in that he can’t maintain his performance amidst heavy usage, he doesn’t always show up for the big moments like a true No. 1 guy would and Rask struggles when he doesn’t get good defensive play in front of him. Now, all goalies struggle on some level when they don’t get good defensive play, but you also see the truly good ones pick up their teammates when they’re having a bad night. You very rarely see Rask do that. I don’t think his best days are behind. I just think the Bruins play a little bit of a different system now that’s weighted toward offense, and that means it’s not quite as structured and geared toward protecting the goalie as it once was in the D-zone. Therefore, Rask sees higher quality chances at times and lets in more goals. I think Rask is what he is at this point, and a true No. 1 goalie wouldn’t require that you pay $2.75 million to the backup that’s going to have to play 30 plus games this season. So the real reason in my eyes? Tuukka Rask is a slow starter and that’s playing into the right now, but he’s also not as good as some people believe him to be when he goes through one of his really excellent stretches in the middle of the regular season. When he goes through one of those stretches in the playoffs, if and then I’ll be a much bigger believer.

Hey Joe, what’s the best Star Wars theme night put on by a minor league hockey team? Trying to get my kids more into hockey with promises of Star Wars.

--Mike Mahoney (@MMahoney224)

JH: Hmmm. Well, I know the Providence Bruins got into the act last season and even had their own Star Wars theme jerseys that they raffled off for charity. I’m assuming they will do it again this season because the Star Wars theme nights, in general, have been very good money makers for minor league baseball and hockey. I go to the Lowell Spinners Star Wars night just about every season and it’s always a great take for the kids. So I’d say Providence is probably the best place to go locally for a Star Wars hockey night taking place March 22-23 against the Belleville Senators. I didn’t make it to the Worcester Railriders either last season, but they had a pretty great R2D2 jersey during their Star Wars theme night as well.

If you could go anywhere, there are some ECHL and AHL teams that really go the extra mile with Star Wars night: Reading Royals, Hershey Bears, Cincinnati Cyclones and Allen Americans among others. Most of them have one and they look pretty fun.

Hi Joe.

This team, as currently constituted, isn’t going to win the cup IMO. Not enough depth scoring. Third line is a mess. Who do you think is available to go after and what do you think the cost would be? #HaggBag

--Ray Guarino (@rayguarino)

JH: I agree with you, Ray. This team is at least one forward short and might be two forwards short if they can’t figure out a solution at third line center. I don’t think a 34-year-old David Backes is the answer over the course of a full season. I don’t think the Bruins do either. Joakim Nordstrom isn’t the answer there either. But I think one of the kids, whether it’s Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Trent Frederic, will end up stepping up and claiming the job at some point midway through the year. Frederic is off to a good start with three goals in seven games, but both players are minus players at this point in the AHL season. That will obviously need to change.

But the Bruins are absolutely in need of a veteran top-six winger that can put the puck in the net. It seems like they are in need of that kind of player just about every year, come to think of it. So I’ll lead this into the next email below that tosses a few names out there that might become available at some point during the season.

Hi Joe!

For sometime there has been talk on finding a bonafide RW for Line 1B, not named Pastrnak! Possibly going outside organization...now who could that be? And at what cost? Answer??

• Simmonds (Phil.), a pending UFA could certainly provide some much needed size, snarl and net front presence, but age and recent injury history would be of concern????

• Crouse (Ariz.), though a LW could provide size and net front presence now that ‘JD’ is adapting to playing RW with Krejci... and is younger than Simmonds. Certainly could move up/down lineup....??

• Others- Atkinson (CBJ) or Rantanen (Avalanche)??

All would require giving up young assets and/or picks!
Final answer: I say stay the course and exhaust all possible organizational depth starting with Senyshyn, Cehlarik, Kuhlman, and Bakos before
dealing any assets for above players...

Your thoughts?
Ron

JH: My thoughts? There’s no way the Avs are trading Rantanen. That kid is special. Wayne Simmonds would probably be the best choice given that he’s a rental that the Flyers look like they aren’t going anywhere this year. The catch will be the price. Do the Flyers expect to get a first-round pick for a rental such as Simmonds, who has been a legit top-six power forward throughout his career?

If so, then the Bruins will have to think twice about it after giving up a boatload for Rick Nash last season, and then watching as it didn’t really work out with a player that should have been a good fit. I don’t think the Bruins would be interested in retaining Simmonds given that he’s an aging power forward that’s going to be looking to cash out with a long-term deal after this season. It’s just not a good investment just as Milan Lucic wasn’t a good investment for the Oilers up in Edmonton. The Bruins could use that kind of player, but they can’t sign a power forward in decline again after already having one of those in David Backes.

Cam Atkinson? Maybe, but I don’t think the Blue Jackets are going to be sellers. Would Ottawa trade a player like Mark Stone to the Bruins? I think that’s exactly the kind of guy they’d love to plug into that second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. There will be other names that will pop up over the course of the season, but the trouble right now is that nobody is really looking to trade anybody until they know what they have this season. Most NHL teams won’t make that determination until after US Thanksgiving at the earliest, so all of this talk is very premature.

Hey Joe,

I’m enjoying Daredevil season 3 as well. What do you think Marvel is going to do with their Netflix programs after canceling Iron Fist and Luke Cage?

--Brian Cain (@BrianCain9)

JH: My opinion, it’s got less to do with Iron Fist and Luke Cage and more to do with Disney starting their own streaming service where they’re going to do their own MCU television series. I would love to see them do a “Heroes for Hire” series with Cage, Fist, Colleen Wing and Misty Knight all together in one limited series. I didn’t love the last season of Cage, and thought the best episode was when Power Man and Iron Fist were together. So putting them together would be the best way to proceed and I’m sure we’ll see those actors playing those roles again in some form or fashion.  

Haggs,

I think it’s time to address the non-goalie elephant in the Bruins locker room. The third line has lots of speed and tenacity without Backes. Where does he fit when he gets back? Is he coming back? Should he retire given his concussion history?

Thanks 
Andy DeWilde

JH: I don’t think this is an elephant in the Bruins dressing room at all. I’m not sure I’ve seen all that more tenacity or production with Backes out of the lineup and it’s only been a couple of games. I think he’ll go back to the third line when he comes back. Maybe he’ll get a look on the fourth line as well with Ryan Donato kind of miscast there right now, but I’d be a lot less willing to break up the third line if they were scoring goals in addition to being just “fast and tenacious.”

Backes was walking around the dressing room post-workout at the B’s practice facility on Friday and looked like he was obviously feeling better. The same with Charlie McAvoy after seeing him on Friday night at a charity event at Ocean Prime. I think both players will be back on the ice soon and are making strides to return from their “upper body injuries.” The Bruins need the size, physicality and leadership that Backes provides, so I don’t understand the notion that there won’t be a place for him when he’s healthy. He can still be an effective player as long as the concussion thing doesn’t become a nagging issue for a player who has logged a lot of hard miles.  

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