For those of you not local to Saint Louis, you may have read a recent Fox Sports article on the possibility of David Backes being demoted. That article, which isn't worth reading, is located here. I originally expected the article to be about the Blues naming a new captain for the season. It is not. The article is a watered down version of a much better article by the Post Dispatch (which is actually worth reading) located here. I would suggest reading this article for a better idea of what is actually going on. Below I will breakdown it down.
I do not think that David Backes will be stripped of his captaincy this season. I do believe he will be moved to a lower line. Here is why those two things are not linked: Not all captains play on the top line. According to Daily Faceoff, 3 teams currently have captains who are not on or projected to their teams top lines. Those teams are The Kings, The Wild and The Sabres. This is not including teams who have defensemen as captains. While it is far more common to have a captain on the top line, it wouldn't be the first time a team took the ice with a captain on the bench for top line minutes.
The article uses quotes from Hitch saying that Backes' position will be based heavily on the development of Jaskin, Rattie, and Fabbri. This might sound groundbreaking, but it isn't. Most NHL players are on demotion notice if a younger player suddenly becomes better than they are. David Backes is a workman player who leads with his chin. He isn't a sniper or a fast break threat. He doesn't lead this team by scoring. He leads this team by example. Playing hard when everyone else is giving up. His chances of moving down the lineup is far greater than moving down from the captaincy.
What exactly are the odds of him sliding down to the 3rd line? Out of the 3, Fabbri has the best shot wedging himself into the top 6. He has shown in every NHL game that he is talented enough to cut the mustard. His biggest weakness is his age. He is only 19 and lost a big portion of his last season to injury. The biggest knock is that with his age and lack of physical development he could be banged around and drastically shorten his career if he is concussed by the much bigger NHL level talent. Should the Blues decide it is time to call Fabbri up, I think he would have to play a top 6 position. Playing him on a goon squad 3rd or 4th line would be ludicrous.
Ty Rattie was a prospect many fans had high hopes for. He tears it up in the AHL, but has never translated that skill to the NHL level. His inability to crack the lineup is telling. The Blues played with players like Jaskin, Porter, and Cracknell over Rattie in previous seasons. Rattie is not the type of player who you can simply throw on a bottom 6 line and let him work his way up (see: Jaskin). His previous appearances with the Blues prove that. I am no longer holding my breath to see Rattie become a productive member of this team.
Jaskin played well last season, and that bodes well. Let's not anoint him just yet. He also played on the 3rd line with a 1st line center. If he was a top 6 winger, shouldn't he have had a better statistical season when playing weaker competition with a very talented center like Paul Stastny? Jaskin is an ascending player, and could very easily come out much better this season than he did last. Look only as far as the progression in Tarasenko over a single season. He went from a promising talent to a star in only a year. Should the big bodied Jaskin come out better this season than he was last, look for him to creep into the top 6.
Should none of these players step up, Backes could be converted back to his natural right wing position and placed on either of the top 2 lines.I think this is the far more likely outcome. Let me tell you why. One thing I do not expect to see change from Ken Hitchcock is his desire to continually mix up his lines. I don't think we will see any one line combination remain the same from the start of the season to the end. I for one, would much rather see Backes moved around the lines than I would seeing Steve Ott doing the same. David Backes truly is a man who is capable of playing anywhere. He has the talent to play against top lines, which is something Steve Ott severely lacks. He was mostly cemented as top line center last season. It still wouldn't surprise me to see him get a few games at that position this season. I think the most likely outcome is that Backes will bounce around from line to line and from center to wing as the team needs him. He is no the type of player who needs to play the most minutes or be on the top line to lead. I think he will continue to be the fighting spirit of this team regardless of who he skates next to.