There’s no easy solution to David Backes situation for Bruins

Matt Kalman
June 15, 2019 - 2:14 pm

Here’s where David Backes was on coach Bruce Cassidy’s pecking order when making a lineup for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final: Cassidy opted to continue to dress Noel Acciari with a fractured sternum instead of the 35-year-old Backes.

The Minnesota native had no points in six games playing with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci leading up to his last benching before Game 5, when Cassidy opted to dress seven defensemen for the first time this season.

Backes said Friday the subject of his future with the Bruins in the last two years of his five-year contract with a $6 million salary-cap charge didn’t come up in his exit meetings, but he certainly can read the writing on the wall.

“Yeah, [I sat out] nine of 24 playoff games, I mean I’m not naïve,” he said. “I think if you’ve got a chance to win the Stanley Cup, you put your best lineup out there and try and win the game. And I wasn’t one of those guys, so I, yeah, it’s one of the things that digesting, I don’t experience the loss per se firsthand. I don’t sit out there and say ‘you know what I could’ve done more in Game 7’ because I was shaking my pom poms as hard as I could. … Those are the things I cannot control and I don’t necessarily try to. Do they take up some headspace? Sure. But those are in someone else’s hands.”

Certainly the league has sped up more than Backes has slowed down, but both occurrences have combined to relegate him to, at best, a fourth liner. We saw plenty of time, especially when returning to the lineup after being out, Backes found ways to contribute. He scored a goal Jan. 5 after serving a suspension, he scored Jan. 17 after being scratched, and in the postseason he was a beast with seven hits in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round against Toronto after the Bruins lost Game 1 without him.

The playoffs proved that the Bruins have little use for Backes on the ice anymore. There’s enough left in Backes’ tank to be a contributor in the NHL, just not at $6 million against the cap ceiling. He’s a victim of his past success, and a savvy agent that coaxed the Bruins to throw a five-year deal at him after his 45 points in 2015-16 was his lowest total since he had 48 in 2009-10. Not only that, but agent Wade Arnott made sure Backes’ contract was practically buyout proof with $13 million of it paid out in signing bonuses, according to CapFriendly.com.

Unfortunately for Backes, smart business decisions can sometimes make for impossible hockey decisions. The Bruins would save just $333,333 in 2019-20 if they buy out Backes. If they can work out a deal with one of the eight teams he can put on his trade list July 1, they’ll have to give up a significant asset to convince anyone to take on the cap charge even if Backes is due just $1 million in cash after he gets his $3 million bonus from the Bruin on July 1. The Bruins could also retain up to 50 percent of Backes’ cap charge, but few teams would want a $3 million fourth-liner no matter how great he is as a leader.

The NHLPA decision to accept a salary cap way back in 2005 has had ramifications for some classes of player beyond the natural salary repression the cap was created to produce. Amazingly the Bruins would get better savings ($1,075,000) if they send Backes to Providence of the American Hockey League than if they buy him out. That would be horrible position for the team or the player to be in, but we saw the New York Rangers bury Wade Redden for several years in the AHL in a similar scenario.

If you’re looking for an easy solution to the Backes situation, you’re not going to find it here. It might be a cop out, but Boston’s best choice may be to bring Backes back. Their estimated $14 million in cap space should be enough to get new contracts done with restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. Unrestricted free agents Noel Acciari, Marcus Johansson and Steven Kampfer should be allowed to leave.

After 2019-20 buying out Backes’ last year would save the Bruins $2 million (leaving a cap charge of $4 million). They’d have to wait to do any extensions with 2020 unrestricted free agent Torey Krug or restricted free agents Matt Grzelcyk and Jake DeBrusk, but it never hurts to take more time to assess.

The Big Bad Blog is presented by: 

 Technology Decisions Aren't Black and White. Think Red. Click here for more.

Related: