When David Backes signed a five-year, $30 million dollar deal with the Boston Bruins in 2016, many people were left scratching their heads. At the time, the 32-year-old former St. Louis Blues captain was coming off his lowest goal-scoring season since 2009-10 but was impressive in the playoffs the season before.
More important to the Bruins, however, were two other characteristics: Backes’ physicality and his leadership. Unfortunately, the former is one of the reasons that the Bruins have found themselves in a messy situation this season, and the latter only makes it that much harder to deal with.
Backes was waived by the Bruins a few weeks ago, and all signs pointed toward the veteran making his way to Providence to join the Bruins’ American Hockey League affiliate. Since returning from the All-Star break, however, the Bruins announced that Backes won’t be joining their minor-league team, leaving a strange situation surrounding the 35-year-old.
Backes’ Contract Doomed to Fail
Backes’ contract has been labeled the worst deal an otherwise-successful general manager Don Sweeney has made since joining Boston in May 2015. To be blunt, Backes’ contract was destined to fail. He came to Boston as a veteran, heavy-hitting player on the back end of his career, looking to continue making an impact in a league that was only getting faster.
Backes’ deal, at the time, raised the question not of whether the contract would be a failure, but when. If he could help land the Bruins a Stanley Cup before then, well, it would be worth it.
Of course, that didn’t happen. In fact, the painful truth is that the Bruins made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the team that Backes formerly captained, and Backes was scratched from the lineup.
Of course, none of this was his fault. While it’s easy for fans to scrutinize players on above-value contracts, you can’t really blame someone for taking the money (who would turn down a contract for more money because they didn’t think they were worth it?).
Additionally, Backes’ injuries are a big part of his story in Boston. As my colleague Brandon Share-Cohen pointed out, he played in just 66% of games over the past two seasons, tallying just 23 points.
Could Bruins Trade Backes?
With Backes’ time in Boston appearing to come to a close – at least for now – and the announcement that the veteran won’t be playing in Providence (again, at least for now), the situation surrounding the highly-respected veteran is in limbo. So, what are the Bruins to do?
One option is to trade him. It’s an idea that Sweeney recently hinted at when he announced that Backes wouldn’t make the trek to Providence:
“After speaking with David, we have agreed that it is in the best interest of David and the Bruins for him not to play in Providence at this time,” said Sweeney, per Yahoo Sports. “David is fit and able to play, but in order to preserve all potential options for both David and the Bruins moving forward, we have decided this is the best course of action.”
The potential of a deal also explains the weird situation that the Bruins and Backes are in right now. With a history of injuries, it’s smart to limit his chance of another injury.
Of course, a trade including Backes wouldn’t be as simple as a player-for-player deal. The Bruins would be looking to dump a portion of the $6 million owed to him this season and next. Cap space is an issue, and trading Backes is a good way to give the team some breathing room.
The question then, is who would be willing to take on Backes’ contract? One option that Joe Haggerty of NBC Sports Boston pointed to is the Anaheim Ducks, who have $3.6 million in available cap space and some potential players of interest to the Bruins.
But again, any such trade wouldn’t be that simple. The Bruins would likely still end up eating a lot of Backes’ salary and would package him with prospects to sweeten a deal.
Other Options for Backes
If Backes is not dealt by the Feb. 24 trade deadline, then there’s a chance he will head to Providence. Some have even indicated that the Bruins could pull him up in time for the postseason, although that would come as a surprise unless the team is dealing with some serious injury issues.
The Bruins could also try to force Backes to Providence and suspend him if he doesn’t report, but it’s in their best interest to keep him from playing at this point. Plus, the level of respect the organization has for him indicates that it wouldn’t be an option anyway.
Lastly, of course, Backes could retire. Given his concussion problems, part of me hopes he does. He is an excellent human being who makes an impact off the ice as well, and risking injury at this point isn’t worth what he’d have to deal with after his career. But walking away from the game is always hard, especially for a player who has made a career of battling it out.
In the meantime, the Bruins will likely shop Backes and remain in limbo until something develops.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!