What David Backes is hoping he gets from Charlie Coyle’s addition

Matt Kalman
February 28, 2019 - 4:13 pm

General manager Don Sweeney’s Feb. 20 trade with Minnesota netted forward Charlie Coyle for the Bruins.

But what if that deal turns out to add two productive forwards to the Bruins’ lineup?

That’s what David Backes hopes happens.

Coach Bruce Cassidy has used the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Coyle as Backes’ center through two games as part of a heavier, puck-protecting third line – first with Peter Cehlarik and then with Joakim Nordstrom on left wing.

Backes, who had five goals and nine assists in 51 games heading into Boston’s clash with NHL-leading Tampa Bay on Thursday, could use the lift. And the Bruins could use the extra dose of production.

“I think this is kind of the time of the year when even in the ‘new NHL’ the game’s going to trend towards my game and I’m going to be counted on to come up with some clutch plays and I hope to produce those,” Backes told WEEI.com after an optional morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena on Thursday. “Also with the addition of Charlie [Coyle], it’s maybe the first time in my career that they’ve said we need a guy to play in this spot probably with this guy. And it’s like OK, they’ve gone out and gotten somebody that’s an established NHL guy that can help me be productive and now I’ve got to reward them for making that move as well.”

One would expect Coyle to feel pressure coming home to Massachusetts and being seen as one of the missing pieces on what Sweeney thinks is a championship team. But it seems Backes is also feeling pressure to make this partnership work.

“I don’t know if it’s pressure, it’s opportunity. And when you’re prepared for it, it can be a great thing and [breed] a little bit of new life into it, so I’m excited for it,” Backes said.

It’s been a trying season for the 34-year-old Backes, whomissed five games in October with a concussion and was suspended for an illegal hit for three games in late December and early January.

On Jan. 16, he was a healthy scratch for the first time in more than a decade. He’s been a healthy scratch three times since then, and it was starting to feel like the end of Backes’ third year of his five-year, $30 million deal with Boston would go out with a whimper.

But there were signs of revitalization in St. Louis, where Backes was robbed by a “save of the year” candidate from Jordan Binnington and then missed an open net from a tough angle later in the game.

Backes, who has played with 14 different linemates this season, has been encouraged by his pairing with Coyle.

“Charlie’s abilities, his speed … I keep looking at the stat sheet, he doesn’t have a shot the two games I’ve been with him, he’s got an amazing shot,” Backes said. “So I’m trying to goad him into shooting the puck more, even if I’m close to the net, I’m telling him ‘hey I’ll get it off a rebound just as easily as I’ll get it off your pass, and you’ve got a great chance to score on the initial one.’ So we’ve started creating a little bit of that camaraderie where he’s not getting his feelings hurt and there’s some mutual respect there.”

One doesn’t want to overstate Backes’ intangible contributions to the Bruins. At the end of the day Boston has needed, and still needs, more production from him to validate his ice time and the salary-cap space it spends on him. But he’s worn an ‘A’ since his arrival and his skills in keeping the Bruins tight-knit (a challenge considering the wide array of ages and nationalities on the roster) serve an important purpose.

And then there are ways he has contributed without scoring, like Tuesday night, when the Bruins jumped out to a 4-1 lead on San Jose and the one-dimensional Micheal Haley dropped Backes in a short-lived fight. It seemed a silly thing for Backes to do considering his history of head injuries and the game situation, but Backes’ warrior instincts kicked in and he agreed to sacrifice himself for the Bruins’ cause.

“I felt like he was trying to embarrass me a little bit,” said Backes, who described how Haley was squaring up to Backes and daring him to fight. “And there’s a certain point too where it’s a three-goal lead and he’s playing a little bit more, and there’s a reason he’s out there, and it’s not get them back in the game in my opinion. It’s to cause harm to some of our guys, and if I could stifle that by maybe getting his moment of his gloves off, what he’s out there to do, he’s quiet the rest of the night, we all get to go home and get back to a really good game [Thursday].”

Backes took the contract the Bruins offered him, like any human would. He hasn’t let the frustration of not producing reduce his character and leadership. And if Coyle can help coax some more points out of his older linemate, Sweeney’s trade will have made a double-impact and lessened the disappointment about Backes’ bang for his bucks.


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