Boston is a difficult city for any professional athlete. Be it hockey, baseball, basketball – you name it, Bostonians love their sports teams. The fans are passionate (and therefore harsh at times), and the media is critical. If you want to be loved in Beantown, you need to earn it. David Backes is doing just that.
Sure, we’re only a game into the regular season, so it’s far too early to call the Backes signing a success. But one thing’s for sure, the veteran forward has quieted those who critiqued his signing much faster than anticipated.
— Frank Pimentel (@FrankBostonTank) October 14, 2016
Backes vs. Eriksson – The Unavoidable Comparison
The issue that many fans had with the Backes signing wasn’t really about his play at all. Instead, it was about the context of the deal. The Bruins chose to let one of their top scorers, Loui Eriksson, walk, opting not to pay him the six-year, $36-million deal he eventually signed with Vancouver.
Instead, the B’s brought in veteran forward David Backes, signing him to a five-year deal worth the same AAV as Eriksson’s. The key is, Backes has had worse production numbers than Eriksson has had over the past few seasons, and the former Blues captain is a year older than Eriksson.
Why then, bring in an older and less-producing forward at the same annual price? Well, maybe it wasn’t just about scoring.
David Backes brings a unique style of play that Boston has cherished throughout its history. It’s the cliche that has echoed through the halls of TD Garden and the original Boston Garden for decades – Big Bad Bruins hockey – and it’s a perfect fit for Backes.
David Backes’ first as a Bruin. pic.twitter.com/4nlAJxd2Dn
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) October 14, 2016
There’s no doubting that Eriksson is a talented player. However, he played a style of hockey that favored finesse over physicality, and Boston decided to move in another direction. That’s not to say that Eriksson wasn’t tough; he was strong on the puck and was able to work his way through physical situations. But he didn’t set a physical, rough-and-tough pace. Backes does just that.
It’s a style of play that has led to quite a bit of success for the former Blues captain and plays perfectly into his leadership role. He’s willing to throw his weight around for the team and he sets the tone for his teammates to do the same. The aggressive, in-your-face style of play can be effective, but everyone has to buy in. Backes has his teammates doing just that so far.
Backes’ Style a Perfect Fit for Boston
Backes came to Boston praising their “don’t-take-crap-from-anybody” style of play. He’s made it clear early on that he fits into that system.
We saw this in the regular season opener on Thursday, when Backes got down and dirty with Columbus’ Josh Anderson just minutes into the first frame. The two would sit two minutes a piece for roughing, but more importantly, Backes demonstrated right off the bat to Bruins fans that he wasn’t going to stray away from the tough stuff. Instead, he was going to look for it.
If you followed the Bruins preseason, you’ve already seen this. In Boston’s final preseason game, Backes unloaded on Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek, and then dropped the gloves with Sean Couturier immediately after. It wasn’t a vicious fight by any means (nor should it have been, considering it was the preseason), but it said everything about Backes’ character that Bruins fans needed to hear.
Production and Destruction
Now, Backes also netted two goals and an assist while notching a plus-five rating in Boston’s season opener. Production like that will help Bruins fans forget about Eriksson very quickly. But there’s a lot more that the six-foot-three-inch, 221-pound forward has to offer.
The point is, Backes is a big, physical player who leads by example. He puts himself out there for the team and calls upon them to do the same. Maybe, now that the season is settling in, and offseason contract talk has quieted down a little bit, Bruins fans will learn that Backes has more to offer than many people had anticipated.
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!