Speculation ran rampant this summer regarding just what the Bruins would do about David Backes. The veteran assistant captain entered the 2019-2020 season with a $6 million price tag.
Many fans hoped that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney would find a way to trade Backes, or that the team would buy out his contract. When that didn't happen rumors swirled that Backes may need surgery and that he could potentially be placed on long-term injured reserve. Backes's agent put those rumors to rest after the forward attended the annual captains' practices in early September.
The preseason began, and Backes was still a member of the team. Those who were still hoping to see his cost to the team reduced or eliminated postulated that he may not make the final roster.
The Bruins will play their 10th game of the season on Saturday, and David Backes is indeed still a member of the team. He has played on the third and fourth lines, when he has cracked the lineup at all.
Backes, a Minnesota native who played several years with the St. Louis Blues before signing with Boston in 2015, has appeared in five of the Bruins' nine games. In that span he has not recorded a goal or an assist and has a minus-two plus/minus rating. Perhaps even more troubling, Backes still has not been credited with a shot this season.
As a result of this lack of production, Backes's time-on-ice has been limited. Against the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 8, he played 16 shifts for a total of 12:08 TOI. Those numbers were the highest he's achieved in either category. He only surpassed 10 minutes TOI in one other game, logging 10:45 in the season opener in Dallas.
As in the team's 2019 playoff run, Backes has shown that he is not afraid to mix it up in an effort to boost physicality. Unfortunately, hits are all he's been able to produce.
Looking for a Solution
Before the 2018-2019 season, Backes said he changed his diet to help meet the demands of a trend toward faster play. During this past summer he sought help with his skating. Backes said he realized he needed it after failing to keep up with a group of young skaters at a power skating camp.
It is clear Backes is trying anything and everything he can to keep his aging body ready for the day-in, day-out stresses of professional hockey. It's also clear that any improvement has been negligible, despite his best efforts.
One positive to having Backes around comes with the leadership he provides. Some teammates spoke out on his behalf over the summer. That included Sean Kuraly, who said that Backes's mentoring has been a key part of his young career.
Backes's hefty contract runs through the 2020-2021 season. Continuing to play him sporadically simply for that reason is not fair to Backes or the rest of the team.