When my son was a few months old, I started calling David Backes “freight train”. The way he’d run over an opposing winger(namely Jonathan “I wasn’t in Social Network” Toews) like a damn train going through the tracks. My son loved it. It stuck and my friends did the same thing. We started looking for the next fortunate incident where a non Blues jersey wearing rogue would walk across the tracks without looking for the train coming through. It happened a lot. I miss that. I miss Backes.
He returns to Scottrade Center tonight for the first time as an opponent in his career. After ten seasons and 206 goals as a Blue, #42 is back in town and traded the blue for black on his sweater.
First, let me state that I understood why Backes left for Boston. Doug Armstrong and the Blues weren’t going to pay him the money he deserved and he went to a team in Boston that was going utilize his skills, if not make them better. It was a business decision. Armstrong turned around and decided to give Alex Steen(an older player) a four year deal. At the time, I liked it. These days, I’m not so sure.
After suffering a concussion in late December, Backes has returned after missing just three games. He’s scored three goals in his last five games, and he is enjoys 11 goals and 10 assists on the season with a health 95 shots on goal(he would rank third on the Blues right now).
He enjoys Corsi For percentage of 55.9, which is the highest mark of his career. It essentially means the other team doesn’t score more than 50% of the time he is on the ice. Good players are over 50 percent.
Backes has collected 101 hits on the season in just 35 games. He is up to his two way talent ways nearly halfway into the season. He hasn’t changed, yet merely transported his aggressive ways east.
Same old Backes. He’s missed. Let me explain with real honest to god stats.
If the Blues were going to retain Ken Hitchcock and bring in a Hitchcock like coach in Mike Yeo, why not keep Backes around or make an effort to make size a top priority moving forward? Without Backes, the Blues have become baby shit soft. Downey soft. They currently rank 25th in the NHL in hits with 777 through 40 games(a 19.4 average). They aren’t slick enough to forgo size in their game plan. They can’t do that without legit depth at the center position. This team can’t get aggressive without the fourth line out there.
Backes brought you everything in a grizzled package. He was a fucking porterhouse steak out there. He is a six time Selke top 10 finalist and a three time All Star. He has collected six different 20 goal seasons and seven seasons of 168 hits or more. He’ll score a goal, knock you down, kick your ass, scream at your Captain, and rescue a poodle on the way home.
I once compared Backes to the Pujols of the Blues. STLGT contributor Art Lippo suggested Chris Carpenter was a better comparison. He’s right. Backes and Carpenter were brass ball competitors who didn’t care about feelings, called out their squad after a goose egg performance, and truly led men on the ice.
In talking to NHL.com writer Amalie Benjamin, Backes was clear about the emotional stakes of returning to St. Louis as the enemy. "It's certainly a date that when you leave, you look forward to, you circle on your calendar," Backes said. "A myriad of emotions of playing your old teammates, seeing old familiar faces, being in old familiar stomping grounds."
There aren’t many Blues who spend 10 years here and create a dent like Backes. When the Blues locked in the Winter Classic last March, one of the things I looked forward to the most was seeing Backes bear down against Toews at Busch. Now, I look forward to the next Winter Classic where he will be hopefully participating in an alumni game.
Sports is a tough racket to participate in; Fan or not, it demands a lot of you. Whether you are a writer or casual observer, inserting passion into the event comes at a cost. I don’t get attached to many players. As a professional writer, I just can’t afford to. However, there are some guys who demand special treatment.
Backes didn’t have the goal scoring swagger of Hull or the career points, but he had the leadership, consistency, and unique skill set that drives teams to the playoffs. In six of his last eight years, the Blues made the playoffs. Whether you like it or not, Backes is missed. While Tarasenko has the goal scoring swagger down, the Blues identity rested with Backes and the way he played the game. I wrote in November when the Blues visited Backes in Boston that he was missed. That remains true tonight.
When he takes the ice tonight, put your Game Time paper down and raise your damn glass.