Whatever role Bruins cast him in David Backes is going to go ‘balls to the walls’

Matt Kalman
September 13, 2019 - 7:30 am

Don’t pity David Backes. He still has his health, still has two seasons left on his contract, and the savings the Bruins would get if they tried to bury the 35-year-old in Providence of the American League would be worth the effort.

Can’t say the same for former Bruins free agent bust Matt Beleskey with the New York Rangers (nay, the Hartford Wolf Pack).

Don’t blame David Backes. Who among us would not have taken the money? A general manager in his second season has a team coming off a second straight playoff-less season and is determined to make an upgrade not just to the club’s lineup but it’s makeup in terms of work ethic in leadership, analytics about how players that play Backes’ style drop off when in their 30s. Don Sweeney is the only one to blame for Backes’ $6 million suffocating the Bruins as they try to re-sign restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo now, and look to re-up with unrestricted free agent Torey Krug and RFAs Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk next summer.

What you should do for David Backes is pull for him. And if you can’t find it in your heart to do that much, at least respect that the guy is going to give the Bruins everything he has, even if it kills him.

“Balls to the walls, that’s the only way I think,” Backes said about his approach to training camp after completing off-ice testing and medical exams Thursday. “Starts first shift of the first drill in practice and going to give it everything I got. Until they tell me I’m done playing, then that’s the way I’ve always been, I’m going to be regardless of training camp, regular season, training all summer, that’s my mindset. Got plenty of fuel burning inside of me and I’m fired [up> to accomplish that I think.”

Backes says he’s where he wants to be physically, a far cry from the rumors of him being injured, a myth debunked a couple weeks ago by WEEI.com. Will even a 100-percent healthy Backes be worthy of a lineup spot? Probably not if the rest of the Bruins forwards are healthy. It wasn’t enough for coach Bruce Cassidy to dress Backes for the nine games he scratched the right wing in the postseason, including the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final.

Karson Kuhlman, Backes’ replacement in the playoffs, should be improved with a year of pro under his belt. Cassidy mentioned Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie as even more competition for Backes. There’s no telling how much of a push prospects Anders Bjork, Jakub Lauko and Trent Frederic will make for a NHL job. Backes could wind up the richest healthy scratch in the league, again.

That’s not why he’s still around, though. He’s around because he believes in himself and playing hockey is the only thing he knows. He signed a contract with Boston, got within one game of his ultimate goal and he wants to see the journey through. He didn’t request a trade, just submitted the eight-team trade list he was contractually allowed to submit. In that way he still controls where he’s going to play, and he’s chosen Boston.

That in itself should make Backes a fan favorite. His drop-off in production from 38 points to 33 to 20 his three seasons in Boston isn’t a result of a lack of effort. In fact, the dip is more caused by him trying too hard. He’s put his body on the line, suffered a couple concussions, gotten cut by a skate, tried battling through diverticulitis until he needed to get surgery. He was back in the lineup weeks ahead of schedule after that experience.

He had his glorious moments last season when Cassidy limited Backes’ ice time, held him out a few games to rest, empowered the alternate captain to add enforcer to his resume. Those three fights near midseason galvanized the Bruins and helped teach the younger Bruins about sacrifice and pulling one’s weight. Whether he was in or out of the lineup, Backes was making sure his teammates stayed focused, ready and willing to do whatever it took to get as far as they did last June.

Cassidy remembers that and won’t rule out a Backes revival this season.

“If he gets back to a level that we feel he can get to, then he’ll have a spot,” Cassidy said.

The Backes that stood up in the Bruins dressing room Thursday was not the same Backes that’s been here the past three years. Not because he’s older, slower or less able to help the Bruins. Those things may be true, but this Backes was also less gregarious. He responded coldly to a friendly greeting and didn’t crack a smile during his six minutes of answers about his status with the team, the team’s upcoming defense of its Eastern Conference title and the evolution of workout regimens that he’s seen during his years in the league.

Backes is usually not just a Grade-A team spokesperson, he usually relays his message with the passion of someone that enjoys having the cameras and voice recorders around him. Obviously an offseason spent reading and hearing about how the Bruins had to get rid of him spoiled his taste for the fourth estate.

Hopefully his zest for playing hard-nosed hockey and being a vocal leader aren’t similarly ruined if there’s little to no playing time available. Assuming Sweeney can fit Carlo and McAvoy into the budget without moving Backes, even a Backes limited to cheerleading and mentoring duties could come in handy for the Bruins to get back where they want to be.

History tells us he’ll do whatever is asked of him, and for that David Backes should be honored and revered.