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Analytics Profile: David Backes

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He’s still got it

NHL: Boston Bruins at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

This is the sixth of sixteen player profiles. If you missed the introduction, you can find that here. Special thank you to Corsica, Evolving Wild, Micah Black McCurdy, for the data and visualizations

Shot Creation : A

3 year WAR/82 : 0.66

3 year RAPM Z-Score : 1.32

David Backes is seen as many to be a defensive-minded forward, when shot creation is his greatest strength, or at least in his current state. This impression is largely due to the fact Backes hasn’t recorded 50 points in a season since 2014-15, and hasn’t reached 40 in his two seasons in Boston.

Backes’ teammates recorded 2.04 shot attempts more per hour with him than without him over the last three seasons at 5v5. While that isn’t too far above average, he’s done that with difficult usage. Models like WAR and RAPM do a decent job adjusting for Backes’ zone starts, quality of teammates, and quality of competition, showing that he is well above average in shot creation.

Shot Suppression : B+

3 year WAR/82 : 0.03

3 year RAPM Z-Score : 1.31

These two models disagree on Backes’ shot suppression skills. Perry’s WAR model finds Backes to be around replacement level over the last three seasons, while Evolving Wild’s regularized adjusted plus-minus finds him to be in the top third of the league.

Finding Backes to be around a replacement level shot suppressor seems like a stretch to me. Backes has had a slight, but positive impact when looking at a more traditional statistic like relative corsi-against per hour, where Backes’ teams have given up 0.85 less shots per hour with him on the ice over the last three seasons. And it’s also important to remember context when using relative stats. Backes has been apart of some very good defensive teams, where having a positive impact on relative stats will be hard.

Offensive Shot Quality : D-

3 year WAR/82 : -.86

Although Backes has a positive impact on shot creation, the reason that impact hasn’t turned into goals, is his offensive shot quality. Backes’ teams have scored 0.23 more goals per hour at 5v5 without him on the ice over the last three seasons. And while that might not sound like a lot to the average fan, it’s important to keep in mind, the average number of goals per hour for any given team isn’t far over 2.

When Backes is on the ice, him teams’ expected unblocked shooting percentage drops 0.46%. However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for his shot quality, which keeps me from assigning an F. Backes actually ranks quite highly in Ryan Stimson, and Corey Sznader’s passing data over the last four seasons.

In just over 1,000 minutes tracked, Backes ranks 74th percentile in shot assists per hour, and 79th percentile in expected assists per hour. That may suggest Backes has some playmaking abilities, and given past research, passes prior to a shot dramatically improve the chances of them going in. However, Backes only ranks 40th percentile in danger-zone shot assists per hour, which are the passes of highest quality. It’s unlikely Backes’ playmaking skills are good enough to offset the public data we have. Given the results line up fairly well with the models, it’s save to say offensive shot quality is a major anchor in Backes’ game.

Defensive Shot Quality : C-

3 year WAR/82 : -0.13

Backes’ defensive shot quality has also been poor, but far less so. By the results, Backes looks a lot worse than he’s truly been. The goalies behind Backes have save 0.59% less unblocked shots with him on the ice, but that number is only expected to be 0.06%, which is a much smaller negative impact.

Playing on rather poor shot quality teams, relative statistics probably paint him in a better light than he really is. Although his defensive shot quality is probably below average, going much lower would probably be a stretch.

Author’s Comments

Although Backes has caught some heat lately, and has certainly declined from his prime as he is now thirty-four years old, he’s still a useful player. He still has the ability to outshoot teams, which can prove useful if he has skill around him. Backes has had a positive impact on his teammates by expected goals, which combines both shot quantity and quality, all but one season since 2007-08, which is very impressive.

Although he has decreased to a middle-six forward, Backes can still be very useful given the right situation.

His contract isn’t the greatest, and he’s not what he used to be, but don’t let that fool you. Backes is still a player that has a lot to offer.