Too many years. What is he going to give when he’s 36 years old? How does he fit into a new Bruins identity?
These were some of the concerns raised as soon as David Backes signed his five-year, $30 million contract in Boston.
Coming from St. Louis, where he served as a hard-hitting captain, many Bruins fans didn’t know how Backes could help this B’s team, one lacking an identity and rapidly falling behind in the NHL.
A quarter of the way through the season and with his former team in town tonight, now’s a good time to look at how he’s doing thus far. To me, Backes has been a solid fit in all three zones and has been key to making the Bruins semi-successful.
Backes’ touted skills before coming to Boston were his physicality and grittiness. Since arriving in Boston, he’s made a concerted effort to show he can still play that game as an older forward.
He has 42 hits this season so far, 3.23 per game, including this boomer on Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek:
More recently, he had one that jumpstarted a scrum against the boards on Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter. Backes has also fought both Sean Couturier and Nazem Kadri in a Bruins uniform.
Given his style of play, it’s no surprise that many Bruins fans have taken a liking to Backes.
With a faceoff win percentage of 45.9%, Julien has trusted Backes in the defensive zone and it’s shown: 50.8% of Backes’ zone starts have been in the Bruins end.
(It’s worth considering that the amount of d-zone starts could be a somewhat skewed product of having to step in during Patrice Bergeron’s absence earlier this season. Regardless, it shows the trust Julien has in Backes’ ability.)
He also has provided a “right-handed, third-forward high” aside from Bergeron that Bruins haven’t seen since Jarome Iginla played on a line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
In a recent game at TD Garden against the Blue Jackets, Backes’ right-handedness and positioning came together for a goal. He trailed the play and drifted into the zone as Krejci battled for the puck; when Krejci emerged with the puck, Backes was in a good spot to step into a one-timer that beat Curtis McElhinney.
His 7 points and +9 rating, third among all Bruins skaters, through 13 games this season just scratches the surface on the type of season he’s had.
Yes, he has already missed games due to injury this season and had a minor surgery on his elbow. He also leads the team in PIMs, tied with Chara with 19 minutes in the sin bin.
But the Bruins have done a decent job overcoming that, with a penalty kill unit that is 7th in the NHL at 85.3%.
While there is much to be said about Backes’ on-ice skills, he deserves a lot of off-ice credit.
With a lot of young pieces such as David Pastrnak, Austin Czarnik, Sean Kuraly and many others in tow, Backes has started to impart some of his leadership as a former captain onto the forward corps.
There’s still room for concern with Backes considering it’s the first year of his contract and is early in the season.
However, if his quarter-season as a Bruin is an indicator of what’s to come, Bruins fans should be excited for the impact Backes can make.