By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It was in the immediate aftermath of Micheal Ferland's massive hit on Marcus Johansson that David Backes climbed over the Boston board and challenged Ferland to a scrap. Truth be told, and given the mismatch in the hand-throwing department there, it was the last thing you wanted to see Backes, who has a lengthy concussion history to his name, doing in that moment.
But it's emerged as perhaps the only way that Backes, who has now dropped the gloves in the three of the last four games overall, is going to keep his spot in Bruce Cassidy's lineup on a nightly basis.
Something Backes himself has acknowledged as a new reality.
"If guys are running at our skilled guys we need to hold them accountable and I thought there was an opportunity for me to step up and fill that role," Backes said. "I asked Butchy when we were in Vegas and we had a meeting if I could be put in roles or places that would have a bigger impact on games and whether that’s with my gloves off or my gloves on I think he’s provided me those opportunities and hopefully I’ve done my job for him."
It's just the latest crack at sticking for a player that probably should have lost his spot in the Boston lineup a few months ago.
It's been 15 games without a goal for Backes, and he's recorded just one assist over that span. Extend that sample size back to the start of post-holiday break and we're talking about a $6 million forward with just two goals and four points in his last 22 games (Backes has had over 265 minutes of time on ice, including over 32 power-play minutes, over that span).
Look at his season as a whole, even, and Backes' 14 points on the year rank him 249th out of 257 NHL forwards to have played at least 50 games and average 13 minutes per night this season.
And with the points not coming, even with the Bruins providing the Minnesota-born power forward a boost down the middle with the acquisition of Charlie Coyle, Backes has decided to try and carve out a new role as a brawler.
"David, I think, is grabbing onto an area of the lineup where he feels he can contribute," Cassidy said of No. 42's new rule with the team. "So, we really appreciate that as a staff and the players do too, that he’s putting himself in harm’s way for the good of the team, and that’s leadership. So, I prefer he doesn’t do it every night, and hopefully this has just been a run where he’s had to do it, but I can’t predict the future. Again, it’s a testament to his character."
Character's great, sure, but a working brain is even better. And, again, it's the health history with Backes that makes this all extremely troubling, at least when it comes to full-on supporting this move towards a move enforcer-like role.
And it begs the simple question: isn't Backes at all worried about his long-term health here?
"My wife probably does [worry], but that can’t be a thought in your head when you’re out playing in the NHL," Backes said. "I think there’s – she might be worried about me driving more than 65 miles per hour on the Pike, too, and potential car accidents, or whatever else that could come. But I think the game is – you look at the stats and you’re not as prone to concussions actually fighting as you are from whiplash or side hits or shoulders to the face or elbows to the face.
"It’s a calculated decision and if I’m going to stay part of this team and stay a part of a winning team, that’s maybe going to be part of my role and I’m okay with it. It’s sticking up for each other, sticking together again. It’s a staple of what we do here."
Mrs. Backes is not alone in those worries, either, as revealed by Cassidy.
"I do [worry]," Cassidy admitted. "They’re human beings first, and when you coach them every day that’s always a concern."
But until those concerns become organization-wide, it appears that it will be gloves off until further notice.