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.

Bruins’ David Backes takes skate to face, returns

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BOSTON (AP) Boston Bruins forward David Backes rushed himself off the ice Tuesday night after taking a skate blade to the face late in the first period but returned at the start of the second and finished the game.

Backes pushed Oliver Ekman-Larsson near the side of the net and the Arizona defenseman went to the ice, kicking up his left skate on the way down. It caught Backes in the face, and he went down before skating on his own quickly to the bench and out the tunnel.

Backes returned and won the faceoff to start the second period. He did not speak to reporters during the open locker room period but told The Boston Globe as he left the building he had a cut on the side of his nose that required a few stitches and some ointment.

“It’s always scary when your teammate takes a skate to the face, or really anywhere,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after scoring twice and adding an assist in the 4-3 victory. “He’s a little prettier now and no worse for wear.”

Backes required 18 stitches to close a cut on his leg after a game against Tampa Bay in March.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Crushing hit forces Bruins’ Backes from Game 5

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Boston Bruins forward David Backes won’t return to Sunday’s Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning after a big hit in the second period.

Backes was stood up by Tampa forward J.T. Miller at the Lightning blue line as Backes was trying to get the puck into the zone.

The hit seemed to stiffen up Backes as he fell to the ice, where he laid for several minutes before having to be helped off it by two Bruins and then helped down the tunnel by members of Boston’s training staff.

There was no penalty called on the play. Miller scored the go-ahead goal later in the period and the Bruins trail 2-1 in the third period with their playoff lives on the line.

Backes is no stranger to the concussion.

He was concussed on this hit by William Carrier:

And there was the Brent Seabrook hit:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck