David Backes

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Chara to play Game 5 vs. Blues; Bruins go with seven defensemen

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Zdeno Chara clearly is injured, but the captain is going to play through it to help the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues Thursday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream).

He reportedly suffered a broken jaw when Brayden Schenn‘s shot struck him in the face during Game 4 on Monday. He returned to the bench, but was forced to sit out for the third period. It seems that’s the extent of the time he’ll miss though. Not only is he going to dress for Game 5, but he’s one of Boston’s starters.

The fact that he’s willing to soldier through it is huge for Boston, which is already dealing with the absence of defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. He hasn’t played since being hit from behind by Oskar Sundqvist and while Grzelcyk was listed as a game-time decision on Thursday, he ultimately wasn’t out with his teammates for the pregame warmups. The silver lining there is that he did skate Thursday morning without the non-contact jersey he had previously donned.

Boston will also dress Steven Kampfer tonight, giving them seven defensemen. That might be a move to put a little less pressure on Chara and to that end, it will be interesting to see how much time each blueliner gets tonight.

To make room in the lineup, former Blues captain David Backes will not play for Boston against his old team. Backes has averaged just 9:44 minutes per game in the 2019 playoffs and was on the ice for 9:09 minutes in Game 4.

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Why rebuilding teams should trade for players like Marleau

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The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, and others have discussed an intriguing possibility that the Los Angeles Kings might trade for Patrick Marleau from the cap-strapped Toronto Maple Leafs.

On its face, that seems like an ill-advised trade. Why would the already-old-as-dirt, expensive Kings seek out a near-40-year-old who carries a bloated $6.25 million cap hit?

Yet, in the cap era, it’s a deal that could make a ton of sense for both sides, if the right deal could be hashed out.

The Kings should go even bolder

While LeBrun discusses the Kings wanting to get rid of a different, cheaper problem contract to make the Marleau trade work (sub required), the real goal should be for both teams to acknowledge their situations. The Maple Leafs needs cap space; the Kings need to build up their farm system with picks and prospects.

Instead of trying to move, say, Dustin Brown or Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings should instead find as creative ways as possible to bulk up on futures, while accepting the (admittedly grim) reality that they’ll suffer through 2019-20, if not 2020-21 and beyond.

In fact, if I were Kings GM Rob Blake, I’d pitch sending over Alec Martinez for Marleau, with the goal of really making it costly for the Maple Leafs. Imagine how appealing it would be for the Maple Leafs to move out Marleau’s contract and improve their defense, and imagine how much more of a ransom the Kings could demand if they’re absorbing all the immediate “losses” in such a trade? Could Los Angeles land yet another Maple Leafs first-rounder, say in 2020 or even 2021? Could such a deal be sweetened with, say, the rights to Andreas Johansson?

That trade might not work, but it’s a blueprint

The Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott believes that a deal probably won’t actually work out, and that’s understandable. There are a lot of ins and outs to a would-be trade that could send Marleau to L.A., particularly since Marleau would need to waive his no-trade clause to complete a trade.

But, really, this is just one example.

Rebuilding teams should apply similar logic to any number of other situations, while contenders can be forgiven for thinking more short-term.

Of course, a rebuilding team would also need to embrace the rebuilding reality, and not every team is past the denial stage.

Potential rebuilding teams

The Kings are in a decent position to absorb a tough year or two, what with being not that far removed from two Stanley Cup wins. The Ottawa Senators have already prepared fans for a rebuild, although they also need to avoid making things too brutal after an agonizing year. The Detroit Red Wings could be less resistant to rebuilding under Steve Yzerman than Ken Holland. Other teams should probably at least consider a short pulling off of the Band-Aid, too, with the Anaheim Ducks coming to mind.

What are some of the problem contracts that could be moved? Glad you (may have) asked.

Also, quick note: these mentions are based on my perception of the relative value of players, not necessarily how their teams view them.

Marleau-likes (challenging contracts ending after 2019-20)

  • Again, Marleau is about to turn 40, and his cap hit is $6.25M. His actual salary is just $4.25M, with Cap Friendly listing his salary bonus at $3M. Maybe the Maple Leafs could make his contract even more enticing to move if they eat the salary bonus, then trade him? If it’s not the Kings, someone should try hard to get Marleau, assuming he’d waive for at least a few situations.
  • Ryan Callahan: 34, $5.8M cap hit, $4.7M salary. Callahan to the Red Wings almost feels too obvious, as Yzerman can do his old team the Lightning a cap-related favor, get one of his beloved former Rangers, and land some much-needed pieces. Naturally, other rebuilders should seek this deal out, too, as the Bolts are in just as tough a spot with Brayden Point as the Maple Leafs are in trying to sign Mitch Marner.
  • Nathan Horton: 35, $5.3M cap hit, $3.6M salary. The Maple Leafs have been placing Horton on LTIR since acquiring his contract, but with his reduced actual salary, maybe a team would take that minor headache off of Toronto’s hands?
  • David Clarkson: 36, $5.25M cap hit, $3.25M salary. Basically Vegas’ version of the Horton situation.
  • Zach Bogosian: 29, $5.14M cap hit, $6M salary. Buffalo’s said the right things about liking Bogosian over the years, but with big spending coming up if they want to re-sign Jeff Skinner, not to mention get better … wouldn’t they be better served spending that money on someone who might move the needle?
  • Andrew MacDonald: 33, $5M cap hit, $5.75M salary. Like Bogosian, MacDonald’s salary actually exceeds his cap hit. Maybe you’d get a better return from Philly if you ate one year of his deal? Both the Flyers and Sabres have some added urgency to be better in 2019-20, after all.
  • Martin Hanzal: 33, $4.75M cap hit, $4M salary. The Stars already have a ton of cap space opening up while they made big strides during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You’d think they’d be eager to get more room, earlier, and maybe make a run at someone bold like Artemi Panarin or Erik Karlsson? They were one of the top bidders for Karlsson last summer, apparently, but now they could conceivably add Karlsson without trading away a gem like Miro Heiskanen.
  • Dmitry Kulikov: 29, $4.33M cap hit and salary. Maybe the Jets could more easily keep Jacob Trouba along with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor if they get rid of an underwhelming, expensive defenseman? Just a thought.

If you want to dig even deeper, Cap Friendly’s list is a great guide.

Two years left

Seeking contracts that expire after 2020-21 is a tougher sell, but maybe the rewards would be worth the risk of extended suffering?

  • Corey Perry: 36, $8.625M cap hit. $8M salary in 2019-20; $7M salary ($4M base; $3M salary bonus) in 2020-21. If you’re offering to take on Perry’s contract, you’d probably want a significant package in return. If the Ducks are in rebuild denial, then they’d get a fresher start if they managed to bribe someone to take Perry. Ryan Getzlaf‘s deal also expires after 2020-21 with similar parameters, though it’s less appealing to move him.
  • Kevin Shattenkirk: 32, $6.65 cap hit, cheaper salary in 2020-21. Marc Staal, 34, $5.7M cap hit, cheaper salary in 2020-21. The Rangers’ future is blurry now, as they could go from rebuild to trying to contender if they get Panarin. If they’re really gearing toward contending, maybe they’d want to get rid of some expensive, aging defensemen?
  • David Backes: 35, $6M cap hit, $4M salary each of the next two seasons. The bottom line is that Backes has been a pretty frequent healthy scratch, and the Bruins should funnel his cap hit toward trying to keep both Charlie McAvoy (RFA this offseason) and Torey Krug (UFA after 2020-21).
  • Alexander Steen: 37, $5.75M cap hit, cheaper in 2020-21. Paying this much for a guy who’s become a fourth-liner just isn’t tenable for a contender. He’s been great for the Blues over the years, yet if you want to stay in the mix, you sometimes need to have those tough conversations.
  • Lightning round: Brandon Dubinsky, Matt Niskanen, Artem Anisimov, and Jake Allen, among others. There are a lot of other, less-obvious “let’s take this off your hands” considerations. Check out Cap Friendly’s list if you want to dive down that rabbit hole.

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As you can see, plenty of contenders have contracts they should try to get rid of, and rebuilding teams should capitalize on these situations.

Interestingly, there are fascinating ideas if rebuilders would take on even more than a year or two of baggage. Would it be worth it to ask for a lot for, say, James Neal, particularly if they think Neal might be at least a little better than his disastrous 2018-19 season indicated? Might someone extract a robust package while accepting Milan Lucic‘s positively odious contract?

It’s easier to sell the one or two-year commitments, which is why this post focuses on those more feasible scenarios. Nonetheless, it would be fun for the armchair GMs among us to see executives get truly creative.

Should your team seek these trades out? What level of risk is too much to stomach? Do tell in the comments.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

David Backes finds new role on Bruins as enforcer

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Gone are the days when David Backes would pop in 20 goals and record 50 points a season. The soon-to-be 35 year-old forward has had to adapt to a faster-paced NHL and his changing abilities as he’s gotten older.

Backes has had a difficult time finding a regular role in the Boston Bruins’ lineup this season, even spending time as a healthy scratch during year that’s seen him score only five times in 54 games. But on Tuesday night, he again found himself taking up a job on the team that started last week: enforcer.

It’s not your traditional enforcer role, of course. He hasn’t become Troy Crowder or anything, but after a conversation with head coach Bruce Cassidy during their west coast trip two weeks ago, Backes has taken to being the Bruins’ bodyguard when needed. The conversation was about roles he could play that would have a bigger impact on games “whether that’s with my gloves off or my gloves on,” he noted. 

After Marcus Johansson left the game following a big hit from Micheal Ferland in the first period of Tuesday’s win, Backes sought out the Carolina Hurricanes forward and dropped the gloves. It was his third fight in his last four games. Before his scrap with Micheal Haley last week, Backes had one fight in his previous  70 regular season and playoff games.

“I don’t know if it’s an enforcer role,” Backes said after Tuesday’s win. “There’s times during a game or during a season when you need to step up for your teammates. Tonight’s hit, it was a hard, clean hit, but if guys are running at our skilled guys we need to make them accountable. I felt it was an opportunity for me to step up and you know, fill that role.”

Backes, who’s suffered three concussions since signing with the Bruins in 2016, was well-aware of the potential long-term threats head injuries pose, and voiced those concerns back in November. But now? Now that he’s found this new role for however long it lasts? He’s not worried.

“My wife probably does, but that can’t be a thought in your head when you’re playing in the NHL,” Backes said. “She might worry about me driving over 65 mph on the turnpike, too, and a potential car accident, so whatever else, that could come. 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. If I’m going to stay part of this team and stay part of a winning team, that’s maybe going to be part of my role and I’m OK with it. Sticking up for each other, sticking together, it’s a staple of what we do here.”

Cassidy said he’s hoping this isn’t an every night thing for Backes, but as is the unspoken word in hockey, sticking up for your teammates goes a long way inside the dressing room and among the coaching staff. The reward outweighs the damage in a sport where there’s already plenty of assumed risk.

“Listen, they’re human beings first, and when you coach them every day that’s always a concern,” said Cassidy. “But David, I think, is grabbing onto an area of the lineup where he feels he can contribute. 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. 

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Seeking consistency, Bruins scratch struggling Backes

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David Backes’ time on ice with the Boston Bruins and his production has dwindled this season, and as head coach Bruce Cassidy seeks a better option next to David Krejci, the 34-year-old veteran will be in the press box for Wednesday’s game against the Flyers. (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

Halfway through a five-year, $30M contract he signed in 2016, Backes’ production has been decreasing since his final seasons in St. Louis; and through some tough injuries, his game hasn’t been able to recover. This season he has four goals and 12 points through 38 games, and his average ice time (13:45) is the lowest its been since his rookie season (13:25) way back in 2006-07.

“You’ve got a couple options on how you react,” Backes said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “Either you cry and moan and go into a shell or your work your butt off and try to find your spot back in the lineup. The latter obviously has a lot more appealing outcomes than the former.”

Peter Cehlarik, who has 10 goals and 29 points in 37 AHL games this season, has been summoned from Providence and will play alongside Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins’ other three lines have been performingly swimmingly, so Cassidy doesn’t want to mess with a good thing. Re-jiggering his second line with some new blood and a player deserving of a chance is what’s needed at the moment for full balance up front.

Backes, who hasn’t been a healthy scratch in 12 years, has never been very fleet of foot, something that was pointed out by Cassidy following Monday’s overtime defeat to the Montreal Canadiens.

“I just think the pace is fast for him right now,” Cassidy said. “He’s got to find what plays can he make and find his awareness around him. ‘What can I do to make a play, and when do I have to put it in an area because I don’t have time?’ I think that’s the challenge for him right now, especially with these teams that buzz around.”

An option could have been to drop Backes to the third line, but with Chris Wagner, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari playing well, the forward will have to work toward getting an opportunity to be re-inserted into the lineup. But even then, can he adjust his game to deal with his lack of pace?

“That’s part of the adaptation to the new NHL,” Backes said. “The younger, faster, more speed emphasis type of league rather than the station-to-station, we’re going to tell you what we’re gonna go and we’re just going to do it harder than you and good luck stopping us, the way that maybe it was in years past or on other teams with maybe a little different methodology about going about it. … At 34 am I going to all of a sudden turn into Jake DeBrusk’s type speed? I think that’s a fallacy if you’re hoping for that.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Backes to have hearing for hit on Devils’ Coleman

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Bruins forward David Backes is in hot water, again.

The 34-year-old will have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for an illegal check to the head on Devils forward Blake Coleman on Thursday night. It’s a silly thing for anybody to do, but Backes should know better considering he’s battled concussions over the last few seasons.

Keep in mind that Backes was suspended three games in March for delivering a shoulder to the head of Detroit Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen. The fact that he’s been disciplined over the last 18 months means that he’ll be considered a repeat offender. So it’s possible that the Bruins will be without their veteran forward for a while.

Not only did Coleman stay in the game, he also managed to find the back of the net twice in the Devils’ 5-2 victory. Backes received a two-minute penalty on the play.

That sure looks like a hit that deserves a multi-game suspension.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.