By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney swallowed his pride — and a whole lot of money — with his decision to waive David Backes for the purpose of assigning him to Providence on Friday.
In a lot of ways, it felt like a mercy move.
The 35-year-old Backes, who has battled concussion issues throughout his Boston tenure (and as recently as Nov. 2, when a collision with the Sens’ Scott Sabourin landed him on the shelf for a month), just hasn’t found a fit with the Bruins. Especially not since the switch from Claude Julien to Bruce Cassidy. That happened just five months into No. 42’s first year with the Bruins, too, so you can do the math when it comes to his struggles to find a fit.
2019-20 has been the bottoming out of that failure to stick within an increasingly speedier Boston lineup, too, with Backes suiting up for just 16 games, and averaging a career-low 8:33 of time on ice per night this season.
But now comes the question of just what the hell is next for all parties involved.
Financially speaking, burying the veteran forward in the AHL doesn’t do a whole lot of good.
It frees up just over a million in cap space for you in the now (or next year if he stays on the books), but you’re still talking about just under $5 million of Backes’ $6 million cap hit counting against Boston’s cap. (The NHL did away with fully burying contracts in the AHL thanks to the multi-year hell the Rangers subjected Wade Redden to in Hartford because of their own mistake.) It certainly helps the Bruins carve out some additional slivers of deadline space in terms of its impact on the daily cap, but it’s hardly a franchise-altering amount of money freed up off the books.
The potential good news is that the Bruins are completely off the hook if Backes doesn’t have to report to the minors and is instead claimed by tomorrow. But it’s hard to imagine that happening for a number of reasons, perhaps none greater than the fact that Backes on the books for a $6 million cap hit in 2020-21. (If teams didn’t bite on the potential of a discounted Backes in potential trade talks, why would they want a full-priced Backes now?)
So then you look towards the future.
Trading Backes would be the ideal path for the Bruins — his no-trade expands from eight to 15 teams this offseason, and the Bruins could eat up to $3 million of his $6 million in a deal — but it remains hard to imagine a contending team wanting to swing a trade for Backes (even at a discount) given his deteriorating play over the last few seasons.
If the Bruins decide to buy out the final year of the five-year, $30 million contract this offseason, they will carry a $4 million dead cap hit penalty in 2020-21, and a $1 million penalty in 2021-22. Sweeney’s Bruins have experience with this route, of course, as the team bought out the final two years of Dennis Seidenberg’s contract in 2016 and bought out Jimmy Hayes in 2017. And this summer would finally be the time to actually pull the trigger on a Backes buyout, as doing it last summer wouldn’t have provided any real relief (they would’ve carried a dead cap hit of over $5.5 million).
Should Backes decide to retire, the Bruins would not be subject to a recapture penalty and have to carry his cap hit on their books through 2020-21, as he did not sign the contract at the age of 35 or older. At the same time, retiring would mean that Backes would forego the final year of his contract and lose out on that money. That seems unlikely.
OK, so that about covers the financials of it all, but what about Backes the hockey player and how he moves forward?
Well, if he goes unclaimed as you’d expect, his bags will move down to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center as an AHLer.
It’s the kind of humbling no athlete wants to experience, and it may make the veteran forward question his willingness to subject himself to further damage. I mean, Backes would literally go from being one win away from his first Stanley Cup to playing three-in-three weekends for the P-Bruins. A glamorous finish, it is not. But Backes has always proven himself to be a willing combatant. Sometimes to his detriment. And it’s entirely possible that Backes, despite having 944 games of NHL experience, is willing to show that he can still play and fight his way back to the NHL.
But the odds are obviously stacked against Backes, as Cassidy didn’t hide from the fact that Backes has been a man without a role for the Bruins, and that’s unlikely to change when the waiver wire closes on him on Saturday morning.