With the St. Louis Blues firing up the preseason and the regular season opener less than a month away(get your mouth pieces out ladies and gents, its clobbering time on October 8th), the healthy talk centers around certain players. Like David Backes and whether he should have been traded, had the captain badge removed from his chest, or basically given the majority of the blame for the collapse against Minnesota. Let's take a look.
The stats don't lie. Backes and the playoffs aren't a happy marriage...yet. In the 2014-15 playoffs, he amounted as many penalty minutes(2) as points. He only scored one goal. He was a non factor in the column that most fans look at and that's production. The keyboard/hockey card gangsters assume Backes spent the six games wining and dining at a nearby steakhouse. While that isn't true, Backes now has just 13 points in 29 career playoff games. Then again, if you are going to punish Blues players for a lack of playoff output, everyone not named Vladimir Tarasenko is a suspect.
People forget about the factors that don't show up on a stat sheet. The players on this team look up to Backes in a way only departed defenseman Barret Jackman can match. As my fellow Blues scribe Art Lippo pointed out, for the first time, this Blues team now belongs to David Backes. Jackman is gone. T.J. Oshie is gone. The identity of this team starts with Backes and his tenure and ability to lead these Blues. Sometimes, the "C" on the chest isn't enough to signify that the team is indeed yours. At the age of 31, Backes is the navigator and rightfully so.
Before we all hop on the Tarasenko sports car wagon, remember he's only been around for two seasons. Paul Stastny has family history here, but also is a newbie to the Lou. Alex Steen and Alex Pietrangelo are deserving but don't carry the all around game of Backes.
"Freight Train", as my son and I call him due to his ability to literally run players over, has 5 seasons of 20 goals or more. His combined +/- over the past 5 seasons is a +73. Not bad for a player that many claim needed to be traded to rid the team of the original core.
When a team fails at the big moment, many fans look directly at the head coach and captain and that's not a bad way to start finger pointing, as long as it's temporary. Ken Hitchcock was granted another season to finally get this team to the promised land(in other words, past round 2) so it's only appropriate that Backes is given another chance to wear the Captain badge and lead this team. It doesn't matter how many old veterans like Scott Gomez Doug Armstrong picked up in the offseason or how many young guys like Robby Fabbri contribute this season, Backes is the key. These players look up to him like he is Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter. They respect him. This young Blues team needs David Backes more than ever.
His skill set is versatility. Backes can score on the jump or post up in the front of the net. He's a fearsome presence on the power play and penalty kill. He is one of the best defensive forwards in the league, finishing in the top 5 rankings for the Selke award the past five seasons. He gives you bite on both ends of the ice and also is well known for knocking Jonathan Toews around the ice like a little brother in head to head matchups with the Chicago Blackhawks. Backes is a necessary mix of rough house on this Blues team.
Let's see what he can do without Jackman and Oshie around. Let's see if the new promise and extra confidence pushes Backes and the Blues in a different direction. If another season and early playoff exit unfold, next summer can be a whole new kind of chopping block for the Blues lounge to create recipes with. For now, leave the "C" on Backes' chest. Let's stop talking about the core breakup and start thinking about the future of this team. It includes Backes. As Andy Strickland reported this weekend, the Blues will look to extend Backes if the forward wants to stay. Get used to him being around.
If you don't think Backes deserves to be the captain of the Blues, you haven't been watching this team closely enough. Let's see what he can do this season and then be the judge.