It appears veteran NHL forward David Backes' time with the Boston Bruins has finally reached its conclusion — but he won't play with the team's AHL affiliate, either.
The Bruins placed Backes, who played in just 16 games this season, on waivers Jan. 17 with the intention of assigning him to the Providence Bruins. Backes cleared waivers on Jan. 18; Boston will save just over $1 million in salary cap space by burying his hefty contract in the minor leagues. However, despite his demotion, the Bruins announced following the All-Star break that even though Backes is perfectly healthy, he will not play with the AHL club at this time.
"After speaking with David, we have agreed that it is in the best interest of David and the Bruins for him not to play in Providence at this time," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said in a statement. "David is fit and able to play, but in order to preserve all potential options for both David and the Bruins moving forward, we have decided this is the best course of action."
When Boston sent Backes down, head coach Bruce Cassidy did not want to speculate over Backes' future. He did say that the decision to waive him was two-fold: competition from younger players on the team's roster necessitated a change and concern from team management over asking the veteran to continue playing his rough-and-tumble style of hockey for fear of long-term health concerns.
"I have a lot of respect for [Backes] as a human being and what he’s accomplished in this league," Cassidy told reporters. "We brought him in to give us some of that bite — that’s been a subject around here for the last few days, and that’s something we had hoped [for with Backes]. And it was there for a while but then some concussions came into play and I think that affects your decision as a coach to put a player on the ice.”
A Minneapolis native, Backes has struggled with injuries — specifically concussions — since he joined the Bruins as a free agent in July 2016. The veteran skater missed nearly a month earlier this season after a scary collision with Ottawa Senators rookie Scott Sabourin that left both players injured.
Patrice Bergeron on David Backes: “The impact that he’s had ever since he got here, on and off the ice, his leadership that he brought...he was a big part of the mentality that we’ve built here. We wish him all the best. We’re going to miss him.” pic.twitter.com/E3UKJZgpez— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 17, 2020
Backes took his time to return to the team after the incident as he assessed his long-term health and only came back after he received confirmation from multiple neurologists that continuing to play was not an immediate danger. Despite that, Cassidy cited concern about asking Backes to continue to play a hard-hitting, physical role that could include fighting.
"As a coach, I told this to the players: [Backes is] a guy that you know is a dad who has two young girls, you always want to be careful that you’re pushing guys to play a certain way," Cassidy told reporters. "Now you’ve got a guy that, who knows, might be one hit away from having some damage. So you’ve got to be careful with that — I know it’s a business, but that is the human side of it. When you’re around the players long enough — that was was a bit of an issue for me to try to push him in that direction.”
Moving forward, the Bruins and Backes have a few different options when it comes to his future. Buying out the final year of his contract would cost Boston general manager Don Sweeney $4 million in 2020-21 and $1 million in 2021-22 and allow him to freely seek employment elsewhere in the league after this season.
Similarly, the Bruins could seek to trade Backes and retain up to $3 million of his $6 million salary cap — though there is no guarantee any team is interested in acquiring him as of now. Should the veteran forward simply decide to retire, the Bruins will no longer be on the hook for his cap space.
Backes, who played for the St. Louis Blues for 10 years before signing with Boston, has one goal and two assists in his 16 games played in 2019-20.