By Carrie Salls | Find me on Twitter @nittgrl73
One of the most polarizing figures of the 2019 offseason, David Backes appeared on the ice at Warrior Ice Arena Wednesday morning for captains’ practice. A day earlier, it was reported by WEEI’s Matt Kalman that Backes’ agent said the veteran forward is “healthy and ready to go” for Bruins camp, which begins Sept. 12.
The controversy surrounding Backes’ continued tenure in Boston stems from the fact that he still has two years left on his contract, with $6 million owed this year, while his production has significantly declined. Last year, Backes put up just 20 points, including seven goals and 13 assists in 70 regular season games. He added five more points in 15 games during the Bruins’ playoff run, but spent a good bit of the postseason watching from the press box as a healthy scratch.
The contract issues, coupled with the fact that the team has yet to re-sign restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, has left many fans calling for Backes to be dealt to another team willing to take on at least a portion of his contract to clear cap space. Rumors also abounded throughout the latter part of the summer that Backes would need surgery, possibly requiring the team to place him on long-term injured reserve and at least temporarily clearing his contract off the books. However, Backes’ camp put those rumors to rest.
If the reports from the 35-year-old Backes’ agent weren’t enough to satisfy skeptical fans, the alternate captain’s participation in Wednesday’s practice seemed to confirm that he is indeed ready for the season to begin. Backes was one of 31 players at that practice, a majority of whom were players expected to be in camp for the Bruins next week.
Now that it seems clear that Backes is staying in Boston at least to start the 2019-2020 season, it is fair to wonder just where he will fit in the Bruins lineup. A likely landing sport for Backes, who came to Boston in 2016 after several years with the St. Louis Blues, would be on the fourth line. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney even indicated in July that the fourth line could be a good spot for Backes given his past success there.
If Backes is to fill a fourth-line role, that means the Bruins coaching staff will have to make some difficult decisions about who to play and who to sit. Sean Kuraly is all but a lock to be the regular fourth-line center, although he showed last season that he can comfortably slide to left wing as well. That leaves a logjam of Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner, Brett Ritchie and perhaps Par Lindholm fighting for regular playing time in the one remaining slot.
One valuable attribute Backes brings to the team is his leadership and experience. His teammates have been quick to point out his role in their development. Most recently, Kuraly talked about Backes’ significant impact on his young career.
Of course, Backes’ leadership abilities are not alone enough to justify him earning a regular spot in the lineup over younger players who may be able to contribute more scoring. However, with a roster still heavily split between younger still-developing players and veterans, it will help the team as a whole.
Like last season, Backes may be asked to play a fill-in role and to step up in situations where a little extra fight is needed, or he may indeed be rotated in regularly on the fourth line. No matter what role he plays, it is becoming increasingly more certain that he will be in the Spoked B this season.