Appreciating The Versatility of David Backes

biopic01My first memory when David Backes comes to mind is from last April. When Backes got rocked by Brent Seabrook in a playoff game with the Blackhawks. Any other player would have laid on the ice stunned and cold. Backes wasn’t having any of that nonsense. He got up like he wanted to exact revenge right there. Sure, he didn’t know what planet he was on but that is beside the point. That particular play, while unfortunate and scary, is what David Backes is all about. Backes is tough as nails, and many fans outside St. Louis forgot that and don’t give it the proper amount of respect.

Being a captain in the NHL creates a level of complexity for certain fans. Seeing the C on the chest, they immediately think the guy should score 40 goals like Alexander Ovechkin or skate around the ice like a rugged angel like Sidney Crosby. David Backes is the quintessential power forward in the NHL. He can score goals, bang skulls and give his teammates a sense of calm and confidence when he touches the ice. For young players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, they look up to Backes like a leader. That is what a captain means to me. Someone who can step on the ice and demonstrate a versatile skill set while being effective in the right areas of the game. The complete, if understated, package.

Backes broke in with the Blues in the 2006-2007 after a partial season with Peoria. Backes scored 10 goals in 49 games. The next year in St. Louis for good, Backes tallied 31 points(13 goals) in 72 games, but had a -11 +/- rating. He was still sharpening his skill set and rounding his game into shape. He scored 31 goals in the 2008-2007 season and added 23 assists and added 165 penalty minutes. He was quickly becoming a bruising player to share the ice with.

There are finesse scorers and there are rough shakers like Backes. He lurked around the net, threw his shoulder into anybody who blocked the path and as the years went by, his +/- rating improved. I put stock in the rating, because it shows how a player can be a liability out there if he isn’t committed to playing a 200 foot game. Backes has carved himself into being one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL while improving in the offensive areas of the ice. When Eric Brewer left via trade, Backes took over the Captain’s spot and wasn’t handing it back anytime soon.  After back to back 82 game seasons where Backes scored a combined 55 goals, 13 power play goals and a +/- rating of 47, the lockout shortened season was hard on Backes. He tallied only 6 goals and 22 assists in 48 games, going through periods of struggle. Last season, Backes bounced back with 27 goals and 10 power play goals. A small injury kept him from collecting his third season of 30 goals or more.

Here’s the crazy thing. Before the new year rang in, Backes had 9 goals through 36 games and a bad plus/minus rating. His line was getting called out for underperforming. Alex Steen and T.J. Oshie weren’t generating the heat expected and Backes was at the center of it. Suddenly, the Captain erupted against the Coyotes on January 6th for 4 goals(he owns the last two 4 goal games in Blues history) and scored a goal the following Thursday night as well. After a two assist effort Saturday against Carolina and a goal and an assist against Edmonton on Tuesday, Backes has 6 goals and 5 assists this month. Suddenly, he has 15 goals and 8 of them have come on the power play. That’s 8 power play goals in 42 games. As a comparison, goal scoring phenom Alex Ovechkin had 9 power play goals in his first 40 games. The Backes-Steen-Oshie line is the most productive line on the team, giving weight to the idea that some things just take time and patience.

When it comes to scoring goals, Backes is pretty good. He is also good at logging time on the penalty kill, playing a 200 foot game, winning faceoffs and giving his teammates a complete sense of calm. Complete meaning he can take care of the puck, destroy another player(my friend Irish and I created the name Freight Train for him when he is on the ice) and he won’t quit for 60 minutes. That’s a captain in the NHL. A player you can count on for everything. Tonight, Blues fans count on him to punch a Red Wing in the face and put a puck in the net all on the same shift.

For some, it’s not easy to appreciate what David Backes brings to the table. You have to watch the games, see his 20 minute effort and his ability to win faceoffs in either end and run other captains like Jonathan Toews into the boards. It takes an old school vibe to fully appreciate his game. Backes may not measure up to the captains of previous eras of hockey, but for the St. Louis Blues, he is exactly what they need right now and moving forward. A sense of calm at the center.

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