David Backes will be the first to admit he’s in a bit of an unusual spot.
The Boston Bruins veteran forward was healthy scratched periodically throughout Boston’s playoff run last season, with two of those benchings coming in the final pair of games of the Stanley Cup Final against his former team, the St. Louis Blues.
There’s still two years remaining on the five-year, $30 million pact he signed in the summer of 2016. And with the Bruins tight up against the salary cap and Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo still to sign, Backes’ $6 million annual hit gets brought up often. Couple that with Backes’ bruising style more or less getting phased out of the game, which has been trending in a younger, more skill- and speed-based direction, and, well, Backes is in a tough position.
But for whatever shortcomings he’s had on the ice, one thing that never could be argued is Backes’ leadership. He often is regarded as one of the better presences in the dressing room, regardless of his current playing situation.
And amid his uncertain future, Backes got a pretty big endorsement from Sean Kuraly. While appearing on 92.9 “The Ticket” in Bangor, Maine, Kuraly was asked who on the team he looks up to and might have taken him under their wing. He used that opportunity to emphasize Backes’ value.
“As a centerman, Boston I don’t know how much better it can be,” Kuraly said. “You (get to) watch guys like (Patrice Bergeron), (David Krejci) and now Charlie Coyle who are all outstanding hockey players and outstanding people off the ice. So those three are my position guys that I kind of look up to as players and people, they’re all great people. You know, David Backes has been a guy I’ve leaned on throughout my young career here. Just a guy that’s got so much experience and just a breadth of knowledge. He just really has been a help on this whole, it’s been obviously a new journey for me in the NHL, and that’s a guy that’s been real helpful.”
Kuraly’s comment about Backes isn’t insignificant. Since getting moved to Boston in the Martin Jones trade in 2015, Kuraly has become an increasingly important part of Boston’s success, anchoring the fourth line whilst periodically putting his knack for scoring big goals on full display. The Bruins’ fourth line last season often featured some combination of Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner and Noel Acciari, and it could be argued it was the best trio of its kind since the 2011 Cup-winning fourth line of Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell.
That Kuraly made particular note of Backes’ role in his development only underscores the notion that the 35-year-old at least brings the Bruins something, though expecting him to do that if he becomes a play-only-when-there’s-injuries-type guy would be a pretty big ask. But with Acciari now gone, a fourth-line role could be where Backes fits in, unless head coach Bruce Cassidy wants to (again) use him on the third unit with Danton Heinen and Coyle.
Even with those options, it’s tough to pinpoint where exactly Backes could fit in and be the best possible choice for that specific role. But with some time this offseason to regroup and return to training, it’ll be interesting to see how Backes prepared himself for the upcoming campaign and if he evolved at all.
Regardless of what skill he’s able to bring so long as he’s in Boston, suffice to say Backes already left an impression on some younger Bruins that have become mainstays in the lineup.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports