Former Boston Bruins forward David Backes opened up about his time with the Bruins and let’s just say Backes doesn’t really have too many fond memories of Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and the last two seasons of the five-year, $30 million contract he signed with the B’s back on July 1, 2016.
As he always was with the media during his time as captain of the St. Louis Blues for ten seasons, as a sometimes alternate captain with the Bruins, and as an Anaheim Duck in the final two seasons of his career, David Backes was brutally honest but also respectful in the latest edition of the Cam and Strick Podcast. While it was far from the beginning of the end of his relationship with Cassidy, it’s hard for not only him but anyone to forget that Cassidy scratched the veteran leader Backes for rookie Karson Kuhlman in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final against his former team, the St. Louis Blues.
One could easily argue that Backes’ leadership and physical style could’ve helped the Bruins against the bruising Blues attack in that 4-1 loss on home ice but based on what David Backes told his former teammate Cam Janssen and cohost Andy Strickland, that style was never part of Cassidy’s style while Backes was a Bruin.
“We had different views of how hockey should be played,” Backes said, seemingly biting his tongue and wanting to say much more. “He was a smaller, puck-moving defenseman, and I tried to eat smaller, puck-moving defensemen. I was more of the mentality of Blues hockey or traditional Bruins hockey of like ‘Let’s get it in and not let them get it out until they’re fishing out of the back of their net’ and ‘Let’s go low to high, pound it to the net, I’ll see ya there and I’ll jam it home’ and he wanted to control through the neutral zone and carry it over the blue line and look for the play and it was just. …I think we could’ve communicated more of what he was looking for because I tried to adapt.”
Adapting for David Backes, or so he thought at the time, was to trim down so he could keep up with the speed of the game and the Bruins system. Now as he looks back on those final two seasons in Black and Gold, Backes wonders if maybe Cassidy could’ve adapted to Backes a bit more had Backes just stuck to his style?
“I tried to lose weight to try to keep up more with the play and in hindsight, I should’ve just said ‘Hey, I am who I am and you’re not gonna make. …I’m more of a hammer than. …or a power drill and I am who I am and I’m going to try to be the best version of myself and hopefully, you can use me mucking in the corners and getting to the front of the net,” Backes acknowledged.
“You look at my type of player that’s been through there and it’s like ‘nope not happy; not happy’ and rightfully so because it’s been a good team but we never saw eye to eye. Even if I’m one-on-one, it’s likely going behind to the defenseman and I’m daring him to go back for the puck because I’m going to hopefully destroy him and then I’ll get the puck that way and then try a one-on-one move and it’s not going to work because he’s gonna take it from me and send it back up the ice. So not happy with the way I was doing things and ice time dwindle, dwindle, dwindle, and now, you’re excess, spare parts rather than integral to your team.”
Backes said that while the leadership core led by then-captain Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron were empathetic to Backes’ diminishing role on the team, but they never really went to bat for him or broached the subject due to the dynamics of the coach-player relationship with Cassidy and the players.
“They did express that to me but I think there’s also a stance of like, is there a place to go into the coach’s office and be like ‘What’s going on?” David Backes said. “I mean part of what it evolved to is now I’m on the bench for 50 minutes a game and I’m still going to be on there and try to pep everyone up and rah-rah and keep everyone on there and keep guys going. So that’s what I turned into more later in my career but it felt like be effective doing that as well.”
While the Game 7 healthy scratch will always sting, the months leading into the trade on February 21 that sent David Backes, a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and prospect Axel Andersson to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forward Ondrej Kase really stung.
“No worse than that,” Backes said when asked how things went down leading to the trade. “So I had played like 16 games and that was the year I had the concussion, so I went to see Dr. [Jeffrey] Kutcher in November. I had some time on the IR too so it wasn’t like I was available the whole year but there were also times when I was like ‘I’m available, put me in coach, I’m ready to play and I wasn’t playing.
So, finally, I think they made the organizational decision where it was like ‘You’re no longer going to be part of this group’ and so they called me in and said ‘We’re gonna put you on waivers, and what are your plans?’ and I was like ‘What do you mean what are my plans? I don’t really want to play in the minors. I don’t want to go to Providence’ and it’s like ‘OK, that’s good because we don’t want you to go there either and we’re gonna look for a trade for you and if we don’t find anything, we’ll probably buy you out this summer’ and not exactly what I wanted to hear but I thought my career wasn’t really over but who knows, you still got a trade deadline coming up.”
What happened next still leaves a sour taste in Backes’ mouth.
“So they didn’t want me to go to Providence, I couldn’t. …well, I was no longer on the team, so it was like after a week or two, I’m thinking ‘If someone picks me up and I’m just sitting at home, I’m gonna be a bag of turds when the new team gets me,” Backes recalled. “And I wanna be a good player to prolong my career’ so I was like ‘let me come to the rink when the guys aren’t there, workout and at least stay in decent shape and I’ll be a better asset for you if somebody wants me to trade for, and they said no. So I said ‘OK, let me go to Providence then and let me just workout. Again, if someone trades for me, I’m serviceable’ and they came back ‘No we don’t want you to do that and we also don’t think you should workout or skate on your own because we don’t want you hurt if we’re gonna buy you out’.
So I had six weeks of not being able to workout or skate and then you don’t know, ‘Ok what happens if I do it on my own and I get hurt somehow, skating on my own, are they gonna pay me? Then you might have breached your contract because you got hurt somewhere outside of the team activities so. …I was like lifting in my basement with like jugs of kitty litter because I didn’t have workout facilities at home. I was doing my best, and truthfully, I was at a Christian conference actually, because I was doing nothing.”
Backes remained there, at the conference in San Diego, for about ten days and said he got to the point where he actually thought his career was over until his agent finally called with the news that there was a team interested in trading for him. That team turned out to be the Anaheim Ducks and Backes and his family were more than welcome to waive his no-movement clause to get to a warm-weather climate. He was given time to get back in shape by then Ducks GM Bob Murray but when he finally returned, was only able to play six games before the COVID pause on March 12, 2020.
Backes retired from the NHL back on September 9.