In the world of sports, figuring out if you are going to lead with the head or the heart is a treacherous walk to make sometimes. There's the part of your brain telling you this may not end well and then there is the heart strings tugging down hard at your throat to think about the emotional content of a move. Whether or not it happens, the St. Louis Blues need to keep David Backes this summer.
It won't be easy. I don't want to be the accountant looking at Tom Stillman's books on the team finances and projections for 2016-17. What I will say is the Blues scored some of the highest ratings this past month in the NBC Sports playoff match-ups. Fans from all states and countries loved the way the Blues fought, resisted offseason arrest, and generally gave until it was gone. Backes was a big part of that and if he leaves, the absence will be felt heavily next season.
He is the Blues version of Albert Pujols. The face of the franchise. The person you associate with a team. Take away the World Series championships and the elite status of Pujols in the Majors and just think about the emotional value to the city. Backes has played 10 years with Blues and is 32 years old(right around the same age and tenure as Pujols).
Backes is far from done and showed that in the past season. He scored 21 goals in 79 games on only 168 shots and not playing with the best players on the team. He got new linemates every other week and made it work. Backes' rep as a two way player stayed true, as he was one of the best penalty killers in the league and also scored eight power play goals. Sure, his 45 points were the lowest full season total of his career, but he picked up the slack of a paltry postseason resume and contributed seven goals and seven assists in 20 games, including two winners.
With a guy like Backes, you have to think about what he means to these players. When Barret Jackman departed after the 2014-15 season, the team was Backes' to lead and he took charge. Young players like Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko look up to him like Dutch in Predator. He's their captain and someone who protects everyone on this team. There's a value that can't be summed up with numbers or corsi percentages.
It won't be easy to re-sign Backes. The man has earned a 5 year contract worth up to 6 million per season. If Jori Lehtera can command a 4.7 cap hit, Backes deserves more even if he is four years older. It's a general price on player value and Backes' value to St. Louis is substantial.
The two sides tried in training camp and the Blues offer of three years and 15 million was rejected for good reason. This isn't Patrik Berglund. This is a face of your franchise that people will associate with moving forward. The sting of losing him will be great and all the fan forum mobsters will come out and praise the deletion of a vital captain. They won't be able to say that he didn't perform in the playoffs but they will reference his age and his cost while forgetting about other current Note players robbing this team of money and years.
If the team re-signs him, it will be labeled by some as a desperate ploy to keep a franchise player. GM Doug Armstrong putting the team's future aside in order to accommodate a single player will be the scroll on most people's pages. Forget that. What more does this team need to compete? Several young players stepped up and showed worth this season. The team was good enough to go all the way and simply ran out of gas after an injury plagued season.
You have to ask yourself this question. Who is most important for the future of this team? Backes, Alex Steen, or Kevin Shattenkirk. After next season, the last two are free agents and may not return. Shattenkirk may not return after this offseason if the Blues can find a trade partner. Steen's cap hit this coming season is 5.8 million. Shatty's cap hit this winter is 4.2 million. There's money there to retain Backes. He is easily the most important of those three players and should retire a Blue.
When was the last time the Blues had a franchise player spend his entire career with the team? Bernie Federko finished his career in Detroit. Brett Hull, Al Maclnnis, and Chris Pronger started/finished their career elsewhere. If there is a Blues equivalent it is Brian Sutter. He played all of his 12 seasons in St. Louis before putting in 13 years as a coach. He wasn't a Hall of Famer but he was the heart and soul of this team. Backes resembles that.
It's not easy to keep your heart out of a discussion that the head usually dominates. Backes' tears last week signified a guy who may be looking out the door instead of in and that could be a clue. It's as important being a fan to find a way to be objective but it's too hard sometimes to resist being subjective.
Backes may not be one of the best goal scorers in the NHL or able to carry his team to a Stanley Cup(yet) but his true value to the team and city of St. Louis is clear and distinct.
Can the Blues keep him? Who knows? The offers for Backes will be plentiful and some will be greater than the Blues. He will have to make a tough decision. A decision many great athletes in their early 30's have to make. In the end, I hope the Blues and Backes can find a way to keep this thing going.