If you didn’t see the news on Wednesday, let me help. And if you just want the summary, I can do that as well. Basically, David Backes went to Bruce Cassidy, they talked, both discovered he’s been a lumbering drainage ditch for a couple seasons now, and tried to figure out where to go from there. What they really discovered is that he has no place in the Bruins lineup, because he’s slow and chrome-handed now–along with his brain being a quarry–so they came up with this “role” of enforcer.
There is a lot to peel off here to get to its rotten and rancid core, but I’ll try. By declaring himself an enforcer, Backes is basically saying he has no place in the league anymore. That’s a role, or “role,” that is quickly phasing out of the game, and essentially giving himself this title is a way to duck being waived or save some esteem with muttonheads (of which there’s a healthy population in Boston, admittedly) instead of just retiring. The Bruins don’t have to scratch their $6M paperweight until the playoffs, which will save them having to answer questions that might make some uncomfortable. They’ll still have to buy him out in the summer, because you can’t have someone making $6M only playing three minutes on the roster. That’s a fourth-line spot a kid could use and be productive with. Backes can’t. Really, it’s about saving face here.
Still, the questions with this are no more comfortable. There is just nothing that lies easy about a team either being ok with, or straight up telling, a player that to stay in the lineup they’re going to have to just fight and cheapshot every shift. It’s a black mark on the game and harkens back to an era the league has been trying to forget for decades and long ago died its deserved, ugly death. On a lower level, the Bruins don’t need this, because there’s no one on the team who needs “protecting.” And if there were, Zdeno Chara is around and available to play at least 15 minutes a night in other capacities, and Chara’s grinning face is the last thing you see before you die, as Deadspin told us. The Bruins may think they’re doing Backes a favor by at least letting him go off into the woods to die with a label that conveys at least some heroism, but really they’re making themselves out to be cruel masters, or at least spineless enablers. Then again, this kind of thing can only happen in Boston and a few other locales.
As for Backes himself, we understand that professional athletes are just a different type, and there’s nothing wrong with hanging on as long as you can. But his grip slipped a while ago, and he isn’t some overgrown gnome with a 7th-grade education at best who had to bludgeon his way through juniors and the AHL just to make an NHL paycheck, because there was simply no other path. He is a former All-Star (no, really), Olympian, and Selke finalist. By the time this contract is up with the Bruins, whether he serves it out in their uniform or not, Backes will have made over $60 million. While he may love it, and he may not conceive of what he would do next (though I would bet the Blues would have him on their television coverage tomorrow), there is simply no call for him to put himself in greater danger and jeopardize what comes next for him. While he may fear the abyss of retirement, he certainly has enough money to take the time and training for whatever he might come up with (and he is already a pilot). He has a young family, and in some ways he frankly owes them better than going out there and putting his face in front of fists on a nightly basis.
A real league would have never let the Bruins or Backes use this kind of language, but this is a league that is still utterly terrified of crossing swords with anyone in the “Cherry Army.” But you can’t see any other place allowing a team and player to announce they’re going to spend the rest of the season/career (could be the same) essentially breaking the rules and partaking in actions the league wants to be done with. Who looks good here?
In the end, Backes won’t be at that great of a risk because of the way the game is played now and the time of year. With games that mean something, rare is the player who is going to put his team’s seeding/playoff chances at risk by engaging in bullshit with Backes. He’ll spend most of his time chirping from the bench, which is what he was always best at anyway.
The end is here for David Backes. There are far better ways to accept that than holding onto some warrior badge that no longer exists.