David Backes has been a key member of a St. Louis Blues team that has flirted with contention for the Stanley Cup over the last few seasons, but was never able to put it all together.
At 6’3", 220 lbs. Backes plays a physical game, and has the ability to impress with his offensive skills. That all combines to make him an effective player in all three zones, and an important part of both special teams units. Add in the leadership traits that have made him a respected captain among his teammates, and you have all the makings of one of the most coveted talents in the NHL.
He had a disappointing regular season by his standards, with his 82-game points projection ending up at its lowest point since his sophomore year in 2007-08. His 21 goals and 24 assists, for 45 points, broke a streak of four consecutive full-schedule seasons scoring at least 50 points.
He was able to revitalize his stock with an impressive post-season showing. He scored seven goals and seven assists, surpassing the 13 points he’d recorded in his five previous post-season runs combined, and finished just one point off the team lead.
At 32, his play will taper off from here on. Perhaps slowly, but there is evidence that big-bodied players who employ the power-forward strategy to be effective experience early, and sometimes quite sudden, dropoffs in performance, like Mike Richards and Vincent Lecavalier. The relatively low point total this season may be just one sign that his decline has already begun.
Coming off a five-year, $22.5 million deal, which was probably less than he was worth during the time, as a 20-goal scorer who played all situations, Backes will likely be hoping for a more substantial deal on the open market; his last opportunity to cash in on his play in his career. He has already refused a three-year, $15 million contract that was offered by the Blues before the 2015-16 season, expecting a more significant offer to come his way in free agency, perhaps another five-year pact in the range of $5 to 6 million per season.
The Montreal Canadiens will have that much to offer a player if the salary cap rises as expected to around $73 million. The team already has a 30+ all-situations player signed to a $6 million contract, and unlike Backes, Tomas Plekanec was able to score 50 points last year, and that without the Blues sixth-ranked power-play strategy. Plekanec scored 35 of his 54 points at even strength, while Backes registered just 25.
Even Lars Eller, who isn’t exactly known for his offensive ability, finished just three points back in even-strength production, and scored three more five-on-five goals.
Despite his importance to the St. Louis franchise, even the Blues’ fan base isn’t thrilled with the prospect of signing Backes to another long-term contract worth such a substantial portion of the team’s cap space. And Plekanec is signed to a more reasonable two-year contract, where a decline like what may be in the cards for Backes over the next few seasons won’t have as great a long-term effect as a potential five-year agreement.
For the Canadiens, that big offer doesn’t make sense. They have similar players already under contract, and are in greater need of a player who can score goals. With $6 to 7 million set aside to acquire one this summer, even without moving a current player off the roster, there are more productive talents available than David Backes.
The team limped through the 2015-16 with a fractured power play, and would be well served to increase their performance on the man advantage for next season. Fortunately, they’ve already acquired a vital key to the Blues’ power-play success, and Kirk Muller cost the team no cap space at all.