For ten years, David Backes resembled what the Blues were all about. Tough competitor. Classy individual. Consistent producer. Someone for kids to look up to. Sports, however, is a harsh business and that reality reared its ugly head today when Backes signed with the Boston Bruins for 5 years and 30 million.
A price that was too risky for Blues GM Doug Armstrong’s scotch. He didn’t want to hand a 32 year old player 30 million and I can respect that as long as he has a plan B. Bringing back David Perron and Vladimir Sobotka isn’t going to seal the wound and absence left by #42. That’s like buying a can of red sauce at Kroger’s and hoping it can replace the real deal.
For now, let’s celebrate one of the best Blues captains in the franchise’s 50 year history. Backes scored 206 goals in 10 years as a Blue and flourished in last month’s playoffs but it was what he did off the scorecard that resonated. Such as...
*The physicality he brought every damn night to the ice. He was a freight train out there. A force to be reckoned with who didn’t give a shit about feelings. And if he knew you didn’t like rescue dogs, you were dead meat.
*The way he got inside Jonathan Toews head and beat his ass on occasion. I imagine Backes saying, “Grow a real beard, you baby seal.”
*When he uttered towards Joe Thornton in the Stanley Cup Conference Finals, “Not human.”
*The way he could excel on the power play and penalty kill and make other players better.
*The way he got off the ice after having his clock cleaned by Brent Seabrook like he was still ready to fight. The man had two pairs of brass testicles.
*The way he wore that C on the chest like it meant more than “hey I can score goals and shit”. He was a leader. He made previous Captain Eric Brewer seem petty and tiny in comparison.
I liked watching Backes play. As my friend and whiskey swirling writing colleague Art Lippo pointed out, Backes was like Chris Carpenter on the ice. He was tough, relentless, fearless, and most of all didn’t care what you thought.
He won a playoff game in overtime on his birthday this spring. That may be the high point of his career. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I was fixing up my house in South City and couldn’t get the game on my NBC Sports app so I went out to the car to listen to Chris Kerber and Kelly Chase spin it for me. I was tired, sweaty, and mad as hell about bringing my house back to life but for ten minutes Backes took it all away.
He did that a lot. Eased the pain of the sad Kitchen Blues recession seasons. He wasn’t as flashy as Sidney Crosby or have a lightning shot like Alexander Ovechkin but he was tougher than both of them combined. He played at least 72 games a season(minus the lockout reduced season) in every season but one.
It’s going to be weird when the Blues take the ice at Busch Stadium next January and Backes isn’t leaning over the faceoff dot staring at Toews. The realization that this 2016-17 Blues team looking different starts and ends with Backes.
You can complain that he wasn’t a great skater. Then again, how the fuck do you compete for multiple years for the Selke Award if you can’t skate dumb asses?
You can complain that up until this past spring, he wasn’t a playoff producer. That’s fine but the playoffs are a different beast and are harsh on a lot of players.
You can say he was going to be a 37 year old making 6 million but then again, may I introduce you to Shea Weber and the Montreal Canadiens?
The critics will never get it. Backes was true value in his time as a Blue. Kind of like a certain muscle bound left fielder who plays for the Cardinals down the street.
Unlike certain popular Blues(a Washington Capital used cars salesman point man comes to mind), Backes is worth missing and saluting. Like Brian “Moose” Elliott, he made a mark in his time here and left a dent and a gap to be filled. Their numbers speak for themselves.
The departure of Backes is the unfortunate collision of sports, business, and reality.
While we appreciate what the Captain did over the last decade, all eyes are on Armstrong now. What are you going to do? Check mate, dude.