By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
David Backes tried everything he could to stick in Bruce Cassidy's lineup.
He slimmed down, he worked with a figure skating coach, and he even tried to become an enforcer. But at the end of the day, nothing seemed to work, and Cassidy himself ran out of options. As did the Bruins, too, as the team officially bit the bullet and waived the 35-year-old Backes on Friday three and a half years into his five-year, $30 million deal.
"We just felt that there were some guys coming healthy, like we did with [Brett Ritchie], in terms of [Karson] Kuhlman. [Anton] Blidh is getting closer. Are we going to look at younger guys?" Cassidy said after Friday's practice. "We just felt that at the end of the day, you do what's best for the team, what makes you the best team. Ultimately, [Don Sweeney] put him on waivers feeling that that was the best thing. From here, we'll see where it goes for David."
To Cassidy's point, Kuhlman stepped in on Thursday and recorded two assists in just 9:56 of action; Ritchie had two assists in his last eight games, and Backes has not had a two-point night since Nov. 24, 2018.
And the Bruins' options for a Backes replacement go beyond the irritating-yet-effective Blidh. The Bruins also got solid contributions out of Zach Senyshyn during his NHL cameo prior to injury (Senyshyn has since fired 29 shots on net in nine AHL games since getting back on the ice), Trent Frederic is lurking as a potential physical boost, and the Bruins may want to get another look at Jack Studnicka at center in the NHL before they move forward with their trade deadline plans.
It would have been hard to get looks at these players with Backes occupying a roster spot.
But Cassidy also talked about the human element of putting Backes, who has suffered at least four diagnosed concussions since coming to the Bruins, out there again and again and further exposing him to potentially life-altering damage.
"We brought [Backes] in to give us some of that bite," Cassidy admitted. "It was there for a while and then some concussions came into play. I think that affects your decision as a coach when you put a human being on the ice.
"We saw that a little bit last year with David, trying to play a little bit into that role and found himself in two or three scraps. I don't know if that's the ideal role for him. But good for him to go out and try to carve a way to get back into the lineup."
Backes was always willing, and if it was a way to stick in the lineup, he was going to do it. Backes' repeated statements that he had been completely cleared by multiple concussion specialists probably didn't put anybody at ease when it came to his own willingness to doing whatever it took to stick in the Black and Gold's lineup in pursuit of his first Stanley Cup.
And it hit the point where it felt as if Cassidy was trying to protect No. 42 from himself.
Upon his return from a concussion suffered in a collision with the Senators' Scott Sabourin on Nov. 2, Backes suited up for just eight of Boston's next 23 games, and never played more than 10:11 in any of those eight contests. Hell, it would have been seven appearances over that 23-game sample had Backes' mom not been in town for the club's Moms Trip.
It honestly didn't matter what Backes did in the previous game (and he actually looked pretty good some nights), because it truly felt as if the Bruins want to keep Backes out of trouble. Backes was even given a 'maintenance day'... on a gameday.
It was a situation that clearly made Boston's head coach a little more uncomfortable with each passing Backes shift.
"As a coach, I told it to the players, as a guy that you know as a dad, who has two young [kids], you always want to be careful that you're pushing guys to play a certain way," said Cassidy. "Now you've got a guy who knows he might be one hit away from having some damage. You've got to be careful with that. I know it's a business but that is the human side of it.
"That was a bit of an issue for me to push him in that direction."
And if the Bruins are looking to push Backes into a safer life, there will be no such luck, as the belief is that Backes will report to the P-Bruins and play out the rest of his contract with the Bruins (for the time being) if he indeed clears waivers.