When it’s all said and done, David Backes won’t be mentioned in the same light as St. Louis Blues legend such as Brett Hull, Bernie Federko, and Bobby Plager. It’s not a significantly lesser impact, just a byproduct of the company’s value. But there’s a context hidden in there.
Backes played on some pretty bad St. Louis teams, and captained some great ones. He score over 200 goals in St. Louis over ten years, was a constant Selke Trophy finalist, and put up those points while never being afraid to use his body as a weapon on the ice. When my son was a baby, I’d entertain him by slowly chanting “cho-cho” due to the nickname I gave Backes, “freight train,” after seeing him just go through players on the ice. Vinny would recite it exactly how I did, and it was great.
Backes put on his third NHL jersey this week. He was traded to the Anaheim Ducks from the Boston Bruins, who signed him to a massive contract a few years back. Things didn’t go well for Backes in Beantown. That’s why you didn’t see much of him last June. The Blues were battling the Bruins for the Stanley Cup, but Backes watched a lot of those games from the press box. He was a healthy scratch, a man stuck in the doldrums of a harsh NHL career twilight. He was a big minute-producing goal-scoring defensive beast with St. Louis; Boston had him with fourth line minutes in the end, and even those were like table scraps at times.
The Ducks will put him to better use. I mean, they have to, right? They are among the worst teams in the NHL, so they have to find some worth in and space for Backes. The winger will be 36 years old in May, and has a year left on the five year deal from Boston that carries a $6 million cap hit next season. Anaheim could be the fitting end to a solid career, or simply the final nail in the coffin. Possibly a rebirth.
Backes deserves another shot and a happy ending. When utilized right, he can be a strong tool for a team trying to rebuild a house. He helped do it in St. Louis ten years ago. I always felt the Bruins didn’t use him correctly, or gave up on him far too quickly. A concussion or two helped the team’s case, because the winger hasn’t aged well due to injuries. But he put up 33 points just three seasons ago, and if he is medically fit next season, the chances of 15 goals/35 points aren’t out of the question. Is that worth $6 million? No, but players are rarely worth their contracts by the end of their career. It’s an unbeatable anomaly. That’s just how the business of contracts and career trajectory works.
The Blues will head to Anaheim on March 11, reuniting Backes with his better half. He will be thrust against the team that found a way to get to the promised land. They didn’t just do it without him, but against the team not giving him playing time. That’s a big time ouch. That’s a special brand of bittersweet that’s only manufactured every few years or so. A rare blend of dismay that I am sure gives Backes some sleepless nights.
The emotional attachment isn’t helped by this unstoppable notion: He was at his best here. I think he knows this, but at heart, Backes will always be a St. Louis Blue. They hold his glory years and treasured time spent where he didn’t just a dent on the ice, but off the ice as well. He won’t do that in Boston or Anaheim. St. Louis will carry imprints of Backes’ charity work and overall work ethic for a long time.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Sure, it helps Anaheim is no threat to St. Louis and their March match-up doesn’t carry a ton of weight outside of mere spoilage. A player is most often best in one particular place rather than several, and Backes fits into that group snugly.
It’s part of the reason I’ll always quietly root for him to break up a play, carry the puck up ice and hand it off, run over someone, and then finish the play in front of the net. To me, it’s a low-rent action short film. Nearly snuff, but not quite enough.
Long may you run, Freight Train Backes.