Boston Bruins forward David Backes has earned a spot on the 2019-20 Bruins roster. Period. End of story. Forget his $6 million cap hit for this and next season, forget last season and the one before that. Right now, the embattled 35-year-old veteran, who many media and fans believe shouldn’t even be playing in the NHL, let alone on a Stanley Cup contending team like the Bruins, is on the team and deserves to be when the team kicks off the 2019-20 regular season next Thursday in Dallas against the Dallas Stars.
Backes showed up to training camp healthy and in what he felt was the best shape he’s been in since the first season of a five-year contract worth $30 million that he signed with Boston back on July 1, 2016. After a season that saw him be a healthy scratch – including Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final – frequently, Backes was the subject of trade rumors all season and there seemingly was not a spot for him on a Bruins roster that continues to get younger and faster. However, throughout camp and specifically in the last three preseason games, the 35-year-old Backes has shown that he can still hang at the NHL level and help a Bruins team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Backes scored the team’s second goal – a beautiful backhander – in a 2-0 preseason win over the New Jersey Devils Wednesday and now is tied for the team lead in points with rookie Oskar Steen as he has a goal and two assists in three preseason games.
“Personally, I’ve been satisfied so far [in camp],” Backes said following the game Wednesday in which he had five shots on goal in 17:06 of ice time. “That being said, it’s not over. Take tonight for what it’s worth and we’re back to work tomorrow and continue to work my butt off and that’s not going to end for the rest of my career as long as that lasts.”
That backhand is really far out. 🤙 (David Backes) pic.twitter.com/eVc8gAuK4w
— NHL (@NHL) September 26, 2019
Backes skated on a line with Anders Bjork and Par Lindholm and the trio clicked to combine for nine shots on net and sustained pressure both in the offensive and defensive zones.
“That line was excellent,” said Cassidy. “Those guys are all trying to – obviously, they know time’s running out. They were told time was running out, if we’re going to play more of our lineup Saturday. I’m glad they took a good step forward.”
Cassidy and Bruins general manager Don Sweeney made it clear to Backes prior to training camp that his contract – which has two years remaining with a six-million salary cap hit – would not solidify a spot on the Boston roster this season, and neither would his stature as a well-respected veteran leader not just in the Bruins dressing room but across the league.
“We had a conversation this summer, a little bit about how the year ended,” Cassidy said when camp started. “I don’t think we wanted to do it two days after Game 7, I think we were all a little bit raw for obvious reasons. We talked a little bit about my decision. I don’t want to get into it all, I think I’ve told you, I was asked then at the time. I put Karson Kuhlman in, I thought it added a little bit more pep to our game and a different element than David, right or wrong.
Then we talked and revisited a little bit of what he could do to stay in the lineup this year, and what’s ahead. It’s hard to predict what’s ahead. We added some new bodies – [Par] Lindholm and [Brett] Ritchie – they’re all players that are going to compete. Ritchie plays the same position as Backes, we’ll see what kind of advances Kuhlman’s made.”
The 6-4, 220-pound and 26-year-old Ritchie, who was signed to a one-year, $1 million contract this past July 1, has not distinguished himself as the younger bigger body that the Bruins likely were envisioning to replace Backes’ (6-3, 215 lbs) size and grit if they ended up trading him or demoting him to Providence (AHL). In fact, Backes has arguably looked younger than Ritchie throughout camp and is skating better than he has in years, thanks to what he called “divine intervention” following the game Wednesday.
“So the whole story is I was skating with my old high school, just kind of playing shinny on one sheet. And I had a text from a friend of mine, said that her sister-in-law’s sister’s on the other rink with a bunch of little girls that would love for me to go say hi to them,” Backes told the media. “They were doing a drill, so 12-year-old girls, I’m jumping in the drill with them and I couldn’t do the drill. So it was maybe the most humbled I’d ever been in my life. And I went home and I said this is divine intervention, and I called that skating coach [Katie McDonough] and I said ‘I need you to help me.’ And she helped me.
It was painful at times, I’m not going to lie. But I think it’s translated into what I needed to have. It was a rude awakening Day One, and then Night One and Day Two of how sore I was when I was back to using muscles that I had either neglected or were stiffened up. It was necessary.”
Backes knew his predicament coming into camp and he has done everything he could to earn a spot on the roster and prove that he could still at least keep up with the youth and pace of the current NHL game. Like any forward 30 or above, Backes will never be as fast as the blazing youngsters who dominate NHL rinks now, but he has clearly shown that for now, he belongs on the Bruins roster or if the team can and decides to trade him, another NHL roster.