By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It's getting increasingly tougher to figure out David Backes' role with the Bruins.
Skating in the third year of a five-year, $30 million contract signed in 2016, Backes saw his production drop for the second straight year in Boston, with just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games for the Bruins. Backes was a hit-or-miss postseason talent, too, proving to be a necessary jolt of life in the first two rounds against the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets, but finished the postseason as a healthy scratch after going without a point in the first four games of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
Again, it's enough to raise serious concerns as to Backes' future in Boston, especially with tough cap decisions looming with new contracts due for Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, and Torey Krug all in the next calendar year and change.
But Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is not throwing in the towel on the 35-year-old Backes.
"I don’t think any of our seasons ended the way we liked, to be honest with you," Sweeney began. "I think that we had a tremendous run. [Backes] was a big part of that, reinserted back in in Game 2 against Toronto where he elevated our physical play, was a big part of our hockey club, on and off the ice. So, where it fits going forward, he’s a part of our hockey club. I have discussions on different players. He may or may not be a part of that, but for the most part, he’s a part of our hockey club."
In what capacity, however, seems completely unknown.
By now, we know that Backes is no longer a top-six threat. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy put Backes with DeBrusk and David Krejci on Boston's second line in the Stanley Cup Final and absolutely nothing worked when that line was on the ice. They were gifted 19 offensive-zone faceoffs (the most on the team to that point) and failed to generate a single high-danger chance, and Backes ultimately lost his job to Karson Kuhlman (just one year out of NCAA hockey) by the Cup's end.
In fact, Cassidy has identified the fourth line as Backes' optimal fit in 2019 and beyond.
"I thought he best fit in with Kuraly, Acciari, Nordstrom, in that type of role," Cassidy offered. "At the end of the day, when Wagner, Acciari were all healthy, there was competition for those spots, so sometimes he was in there, sometimes he wasn’t. So, that’s where I see his best contribution to the team. At times he can move up in the lineup and give you some grit, a net-front presence, but in general, that’s where he played his best hockey for us. So, we’ll have to see how it all shakes out."
The problem there, of course, is that there's no justification for a $6 million fourth-line wing, and the Bruins already have three players signed to that line for 2019-20 in Kuraly, Nordstrom, and Wagner. Acciari, meanwhile, is an unrestricted free agent, but it's not impossible to imagine the Bruins bringing him back given the cost-effective nature of his role on the team.
Backes has said that he wants to remain in Boston.
It would make sense given his goal of winning a Stanley Cup before the door officially closes on his NHL career, and it's something Backes has relative solid control of by way of an eight-team trade list this summer.
But until Sweeney can find a potential suitor for No. 42, something he reportedly tried doing last summer, they will be left to hang their hat on what they believe Backes can continue to bring to their team in 2019-20.
"His impact is again up to Bruce and up to David in terms of, from a production standpoint, he might be referencing that or from a leadership standpoint we know what he brings, and I think there’s value there," said Sweeney.