We’ve run the man over enough times here to avoid rehashing expectations when David Backes was acquired. Two seasons ago, ending with Backes playing just 57 games due to injury, most of us realized that the old Backes had already retired, leaving the Bruins with a forward struggling to find his footing on his new(ish) team.
Fast forward to the start of this year, when the second-line wing situation had yet to be settled (hint: here we go again) and we pretty much knew it wasn’t going to be solved by trying to stick Backes there again. His scoring from years of y’orr has all but evaporated thanks to his seemingly permanent move down the lineup in Boston.
What we saw this past season might still have been hard to accept if it wasn’t somewhat successful: his adaptation to the role he’s been asked to play. No, he’s not parked in front of the net or trying to feed his linemates with quick passes, because that part of his game was never his strongest suit. Backes is a difficult player to play against when he has the puck, and he has - pun intended - fully leaned in to this task. Fortunately, his perceived ‘fighter’ role took a backseat to grinding on the third line, which became more successful with the acquisition of Charlie Coyle as Backes had a younger, speedier version of himself (albeit still with lower scoring expectations) at his center.
Since it came up, and since I warned my fellow writers that I’d be trashing all over Backes only to be convinced otherwise, I’ll use Shawn’s words since they’re just so damn true and the kid’s a genius: “He was 9th in the expected goals against RAPM among forwards with at least 500 minutes. And he’s about average offensively. He has low quality of teammates and is put in defensive situations. Someone has to play the defense only role and he’s pretty good at it.” Further (and much less targeted) analysis by yours truly, plus the #fancystats chart below, gives us more truth: though not relied on for scoring, Backes was solidly positive out of Bruins forwards in terms of possession stats, which is a GOOD thing when it comes to limiting the other team’s scoring chances (a factor in his high defensive expected goals).
Unfortunately, while defense goes a long way to winning championships, sometimes you just need people to score. Backes took a back seat in the late rounds and was not able to be a factor in the Cup Finals against his former team. Worse news for the player is the near-constant din of trade rumors for the Bruins to try and unload his $6M cap hit, no doubt making the offseason uncomfortable for Backes as he wonders if he’ll remain in Boston.
Overall Rating: 3.4
Adam: 2 - and leaving it here out of shame
Showing Adam Erne that you’re not allowed to crosscheck Mr. Backes. No sirree.
Catching the defense asleep against Columbus in the second round to give the Bruins breathing room, where they eventually closed out the series.
And, in the Cup Final, reminding his former team that he is still a hulking individual.