David Backes is the type of player that exemplifies the city of Boston.
A fearless leader, Backes plays with tenacity, toughness, and a chip on his shoulder. The nine year NHL veteran and former captain of the St. Louis Blues is known to do anything required for his team. He blocks shots, slams home rebounds, and is one of the best in the league at redirecting attempts towards the net. Backes is an expert at controlling the puck along the boards, positioning his hefty 6'3", 221 lb figure between the boards and the opponent. He hurls his burly frame into anyone in the wrong colored jersey, stapling opponents to the boards with such ferocity that the viewer sitting at home on the coach almost pities any player that crosses his path.
Any era of Bruins dominance is characterized by toughness. The "Big, Bad Bruins" trampled opponents by using their fists to tattoo opponents into submission. Even the 2011 Bruins, the last Black and Gold team to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup, were distinguished by their physical play. With the likes of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, and Shawn Thornton, opponents hesitated before retrieving pucks along the wall, knowing that physical punishment was incoming and unavoidable.
The city of Boston is symbolized by toughness. A town which values community above all and a hub of learning and progress. How could a guy who is universally respected and is known for donating both resources and his time into making the community a better place not fit perfectly with the city of Boston? It's like peanut butter and jelly. Take a look at how much Backes cares, breaking down after a playoff loss to the San Jose Sharks:
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) May 26, 2016
David Backes is perfect for Boston.
On the contrary, David Backes is not what the Bruins needed at all.
If the Bruins were to make a splash this offseason, the team needed to add a top four defenseman. The shortcomings of the top six were well documented last season, with roughly the same group returning for this coming season.
(Seriously, how can Kevan Miller? I'd rather have a MarioKart banana out there over him.)
In addition to not adding a defenseman that could stretch the ice, the Black and Gold failed to sign Loui Eriksson to an extension. While it wasn't completely unexpected, the loss of Eriksson will certainly sting. Don Sweeney and the Bruins' brass certainly understood the risk of keeping the unrestricted free agent past the trade deadline, but the fact remains that losing one of the smartest, most defensively responsible, and offensively creative players will impact players up and down the lineup. When Eriksson was on the ice, linemates iCorsi rating rose an average of 4%. Eriksson is a Swiss Army knife, who has an uncanny ability to affect the game in many different ways and make his teammates better. Backes does not possess the same skills. He plays a very rugged game and doesn't specialize in puck possession. That's okay, since he was not brought in to replace Eriksson.
However, his acquisition is simply nonsensical. Here's why:
Where Does He Play?
With a solid group of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, and Noel Acciari, the Bruins did not need another center. Add in Backes into the equation, and either Spooner or Backes will push out to the wing. Backes has expressed that he is willing to play wherever he needs to in order to help the team win. Claude Julien experimented with Spooner playing wing last season, yet Spooner's proved inept in the defensive zone when he was not in his natural position. It's safe to say that the line combinations will be shuffled a sufficient amount in order to determine where Backes will line up.
Although Backes is a perennial 20 goal scorer, a 5 year, $30 million contract for a 32 year-old who experienced a significant drop-off in point production is risky to say the least. The deal would last until the Minnesota native is 37, an age where his body won't be capable of packing the same punch on the bone jarring hits or win battles along the boards as frequently. Eriksson has the same cap hit and only one additional year on his contact with the Vancouver Canucks. Now, the Bruins will be in the same cap crunch as management will look to lock up Brad Marchand before his contract ends next summer.
Style of Play
Let's take note of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup Champions. During the middle of the season, Mike Sullivan took over as Head Coach and instilled a north-south oriented system based around speed. When he began as leading man behind the bench, the Penguins were on the outside of the playoffs looking in. His system immediately bought success. The Pittsburgh danced circles around the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, overwhelming the blue shirts with the rapid pace of play. Against the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals, the Penguins used their speed to push their game-plan and force the Capitals to adapt and forced Washington out of their rhythm. The same with the Tampa Bay and the San Jose Sharks: speed kills.
The combination of agility, quickness, and excellent offensive instincts can overpower even the best of opponents. The NHL is swiftly adapting to becoming a league dominated by skill and speed rather than brawn and hitting. Gone are the likes of Colton Orr, George Parros, and David Koci; Fourth lines are engineered to be capable of providing a source of secondary offense rather than protecting a star player or boasting players that could knock out opponents with one punch. Even as the rest of the NHL moves forward, the Bruins continually add talent aimed at restoring their glory days. Last seasons additions of Zac Rinaldo, Matt Beleskey, and now David Backes all signal that the Bruins still want to have a side of agitation and toughness. While Beleskey and Backes are still more than capable of scoring goals, they don't fit the model of players that most General Managers around the league are coveting.
So while David Backes might be a terrific person and a solid hockey player, his contract and fit within the roster and the system are questionable. He's perfect for Boston, just not for the Bruins.