For the first time tonight, the St. Louis Blues will square off against David Backes. Boston, not Scottrade Center, will mark the occasion. It will be uneasy seeing #42 fly around the ice and use his body like a Dodge Ram. He’ll impose his will on young players like Robby Fabbri and Patrik Berglund. Backes will swarm the net, and instead of protecting Jake Allen, he’ll wish to assist a puck getting past him. Yeah, it’s going to get weird real quick.
For 10 seasons, Backes was a Blue. If you thought Barret Jackman playing in Nashville mustard and Brian Elliott in Calgary red was awkward, Backes in black and gold instead of blue and gold will require a few hard drinks.
Backes scored 206 goals in St. Louis and ruffled up 969 penalty minutes. He was the true grit of this franchise and defined the age old battle between a fan’s head and heart over a player. He arrived in the worst years St. Louis has seen since its existence began in the late 1960’s. Post strike. Without a working box of tools to form a competitive team with, the Mike Kitchen era was Backes’ entry pattern back in 2006. He played in under 50 games and scored 10 goals. It was only the beginning.
Backes was named the captain in the 2011 season, but it felt like he was the engine that drove this team before that. As Eric Brewer was imitating what a captain would look like(picture Tom Cruise trying to play The Rock in a biopic), Backes was just settling in.
Backes’ best season was 2010-11 where he scored 31 goals and added 31 assists to go with 93 penalty minutes and a +/- rating of +32. It doesn’t get much sexier than that. Backes was also a horse for the team, playing in 70 or more games in eight of his ten seasons in St. Louis.
Fans complained about his lack of playoff production, which was a notable claim until this past spring, where he broke out. Backes scored a game winning goal on his birthday to help the Blues win a crucial game. He scored seven goals and assisted on seven others in 20 playoff games. It was the send-off Blues fans wanted without knowing it was the end.
After all, hockey is a business. The game keeps moving forward. Backes wanted a contract that would place his legacy on a pillow and seal an impressive career. Some could say that Backes wasn’t worth the money he was given, but look at what Jori Lehtera and Berglund are making for their production. If Backes isn’t the player he once was at 36 years old, the Bruins won’t care. He’ll fall on his sword with or without a 20 goal season.
Backes gives you the intangibles that few can place a dollar sign on. Two way player. Aggressive. Goal scorer. Leader of men. Badass to the bone. Alex Steen may have gotten the extension(he’s older than Backes by the way), but it will be hard for Steen to do what Backes did in St. Louis.
Backes’ presence is missing this season. The Blues are softer and easier to push around. Their net presence on forward is lighter. Their swagger is missing and identity adrift. They are 10-6-3 and hanging in, but have struggled to score goals.
You ask me what’s wrong with the Blues and I’ll tell you. Backes is gone. Start there. The lack of a #1 center for Tarasenko was apparent last year and the Blues were very good.
2016-17 hasn’t been kind to the former Blues just yet, but he’s finding his legs in his new city. Backes has only appeared in 13 games for Boston and scored three goals with four assists, but he’s still a valuable piece to that Boston team this season.
Tonight, Backes will square down at center ice against the Blues and if you don’t know that hockey is a business, that reality will settle in quick. The Blues haven’t had a player start and finish a long tenured career in St. Louis in quite some time. Backes reminds me of Brian Sutter, a former Blues captain who didn’t get his due on time.
Before you complain about the headlines Backes is getting, remember what he did for St. Louis. I am not talking about goals and points. I am talking about a face lift for a struggling franchise in the darkest of hours. He took a team at the bottom and helped get them into the light. He’s on the other side now, but deserves praise for his work.
Long may you run, freight train Backes.