David Backes’ roller-coaster career in Boston may have hit its end.
On Thursday, the Boston Bruins revealed Backes’ status with the club after the former St. Louis Blues captain cleared waivers over a week ago. Upon a mutual agreement, Backes won’t be reporting to Providence to continue his season.
“After speaking with David, we have agreed that it is in the best interest of David and the Bruins for him not to play in Providence at this time,” GM Don Sweeney said in a team statement. “David is fit and able to play, but in order to preserve all potential options for both David and the Bruins moving forward, we have decided this is the best course of action.”
Backes’ on-ice production took a dip upon his arrival from St. Louis during the 2016-17 campaign. The Minneapolis native saw his point totals decrease from 38 in his first season to 33 in Year 2 and a career-low 20 during the team’s Cup run a year ago.
Despite his on-ice production issues, the Bruins benefitted from his leadership and locker room presence in a time of transition. Yet, a career filled with numerous concussions and other ailments — including his latest head injury last season after an unfortunate collision with Ottawa’s Dany Sabourin in early November — have put his playing days in limbo.
“He’s had a huge impact here both on and off the ice,” Patrice Bergeron said following Thursday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “Off the ice, the way he handled himself as a leader is something I’ve learned from, and we’ve all learned from him. Obviously, we’re all great friends and we wish him all the best.”
That sentiment holds true throughout the locker room whether Backes returns to the ice with the Bruins or with another team. How Sweeney handles Backes’ future is a difficult task in and of itself.
Backes carries a hefty $6 million cap hit until the end of the 2020-21 campaign. The Bruins can’t terminate the rest of the contract after the two sides mutually agreed to the latest scenario.
So what could Sweeney do to shed salary? Well if they wait until the summer they could buy him out, but that’s hardly ideal. The Bruins would only net $1 million in cap savings in that scenario over the next two years, saving $2 million in 2020-21 and losing $1 million the next season. They’d also carry Backes’ $4 million cap hit in 2020-21 and a $1 million cap hit in 2021-22.
Assuming Sweeney’s statement on Backes’ current fitness is true, then the Bruins can’t place him on long-term injured reserve.
The Bruins could try to trade Backes between now and the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Backes has an 8-team trade list this season and a 15-team trade list next year as part of his modified no-trade clause. Sweeney would likely need to retain half of Backes’ remaining salary and send draft picks in any potential deal.
So here we are a mere three and a half weeks away from the end of the NHL trading period. The Bruins are in desperate need of an upgrade for the middle of the lineup and could also use some added defensive depth.
Sweeney and company still be in a similar position with a healthy Backes. Thursday’s news, however, added a wrinkle of speculation into the Bruins’ future and Backes’ plans going forward.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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