It will take a few more days before we begin to get some clarity on David Backes’ future — both with the Bruins and the NHL in general.
When the news broke last week that the Bruins opted to waive the veteran forward for the purpose of assignment to Providence, we discussed the multiple routes that Backes could take in the days ahead.
Remaining in Providence for the rest of the 2019-20 campaign would seem to be the worst-case scenario for all parties. With his extensive history with concussions, Backes shouldn’t be regularly scrapping with goons down in the AHL ranks, while the Bruins are only saving a little over $1 million in cap space by demoting Backes down to the Baby B’s.
The best-case scenario for the Bruins (and given his health, probably Backes as well) would be for Backes to hang up his skates and retire. Not only would it put the forward’s health first, but it would hand Boston a stimulus package of cap relief. Given that Backes did not sign his contract with Boston before he turned 35, Boston would not have to face a recapture penalty if the winger did retire — freeing up $6 million in cap space next season.
However, that decision is ultimately up to Backes. And based on Elliotte Friedman’s weekly “31 Thoughts” notebook, it doesn’t look as though retirement is currently on the table.
So, what’s next? Perhaps Backes plays through the remainder of this season, and Boston buys out the final year of his contract this summer. But if Backes still wants another crack at the NHL in short order, maybe a trade could be struck before the Feb. 24 deadline?
It’s not necessarily a position that Don Sweeney and the Bruins want to be in, given that Boston’s GM would likely want to divert more resources into acquiring outside help this winter — rather than find an off-taker for Backes’ contract.
The number of teams willing to take on Backes’ contract has also shrunk since this past offseason, with only a choice few teams likely willing to take on some of that cap hit — even if they’d get picks and prospects as sweeteners from the Bruins.
It might be a tall task for Sweeney to pull off such a deal this season — but there are a few potential suitors for the Bruins to consider.
As of this weekend, there are nine teams in the NHL that currently hold over $4 million in available cap space, according to CapFriendly. While some of these teams would likely not want to take up valuable cap space (Avalanche, Blue Jackets), there are also plenty of clubs that could use that extra cap space to accelerate their rebuild.
The Carolina Hurricanes took advantage of their cap room last summer — taking on the final year of Patrick Marleau’s contract with the Maple Leafs while also receiving a 2020 first-round pick from Toronto.
The Anaheim Ducks, with about $4 million in projected cap space, could be the next team that cashes in by absorbing another albatross of a contract. Along with their current cap space, Anaheim can also extend beyond the league’s $81.5 million cap ceiling this season thanks to the $11.5 million currently on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) with Ryan Kesler, Patrick Eaves and Nick Ritchie all on the shelf.
Friedman noted earlier this month on a “Hockey Night in Canada” segment that the Ducks, still rudderless with a rebuild on the horizon, might be willing to take on a couple of hefty contracts in exchange for solid returns.
If you’re Ducks GM Bob Murray, perhaps acquiring a veteran like Backes could prove beneficial on what should be a Ducks roster loaded with younger talent in 2020-21. It’s certainly a feasible move, given that Boston would likely have to eat some of Backes’ contract and include prospects and/or picks to facilitate such a deal.
Even if Boston would still be on the hook for, let’s say, around $3 million of Backes' $6 million cap hit next season, it’d be better than the $2 million in savings that the Bruins would earn from buying out Backes’ contract in 2020-21.
Perhaps a team like Anaheim would also be willing to listen to a deal that extends beyond just a cap dump from the Bruins? If Boston wanted to place additional picks or prospects into the pot, maybe the Ducks will add a winger like Ondrej Kase in the trade?
As we noted earlier this month, Kase is not as much of a sure bet as wingers like Chris Kreider, Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Palmieri, but the underlying numbers with Kase showcase a winger that could be an offensive force if handed consistent top-six minutes.
Even if the Ducks aren’t the right fit for Boston, there are plenty of other rebuilding franchises with the cap freedom to eat up a bad contract — such as the Senators ($6.38 million in cap room) and Kings ($5.72 million).
It won’t be easy, but if Backes is willing to waive his eight-team no-trade clause, there are options for the Bruins to take.
Bergeron, Pastrnak in mix for some hardware
The Professional Hockey Writers Association (PWHA) announced its midseason awards earlier this week — with the selections more often than not serving as a precursor to the NHL Awards show in June. Last year, six of the eight traditional midseason award winners went on to claim their respective trophies later that season.
Two Bruins have been named as top contenders for a pair of awards — as Patrice Bergeron placed second in the voting for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) and David Pastrnak placed third in voting for the Hart Trophy (league MVP).
While Pastrnak, on pace for 59 goals and 113 points this season, has been an offensive juggernaut, it does seem unlikely that he’s going to leapfrog the two frontrunners here in Connor McDavid (first place) and Nathan MacKinnon (second place).
Even if Pastrnak is still leading the league in goals scored, McDavid is still projected to hover around 130 points this season — while Pastrnak’s production outside of Boston’s potent power play might hamper him when the PWHA convenes again this spring.
Yes, Pastrnak still ranks sixth among NHLers (min. 500 minutes played) in 5v5 points per 60 minutes of play at 2.91, but MacKinnon is averaging 3.19 points per 60 — while New York’s Artemi Panarin (who is gaining plenty of steam in Hart Trophy consideration) is generating an absurd 3.73 points per 60 minutes.
Bergeron, who is tied with Bob Gainey for the most Selke Trophy wins ever at four apiece, seems to be a lock every year when it comes to choosing finalists for the accolade. This year is no different, considering Bergeron is still one of the best two-way players in the game.
Along with his impact in Boston’s own end, Bergeron currently ranks sixth in the NHL in faceoff percentage at 58.3%. Fair or not, offensive contributions also play a big role in Selke consideration, and Bergeron is on pace to tally 37 goals this season — a career-high for the 34-year-old pivot. It seems inevitable that Bergeron will eventually win his fifth Selke and claim his spot as one of the most decorated two-way players ever, but as is the case every year, the competition will be stiff.
(A look at the impact when Bergeron is on and off the ice. As you can see, opponents’ shot rates in Grade-A areas of the ice run cold when Bergeron is out on a shift.)
Here’s a look at the full PWHA mid-season awards selections:
Hart Trophy - to the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team.
- Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
- Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
- David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Norris Trophy - to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-round ability in the position.
- John Carlson, Washington Capitals
- Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
- Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Selke Trophy - to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.
- Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
- Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
- Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Calder Trophy - to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition.
- Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
- Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
- Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres
Lady Byng Trophy - to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.
- Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
- Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
- Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Vezina Trophy - to the goaltender adjudged to be the best at his position.
- Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
- Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
- Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes
Jack Adams Award - to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success.
- Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins
- John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
- Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues
Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award - to the General Manager adjusted to have contributed most to his team's success.
- Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche
- John Chayka, Arizona Coyotes
- Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues
Rod Langway Award - to the defenseman who best excels in the defensive aspect of the game.
- Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
- Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
- Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Comeback Player of the Year Award - to the player who returned to a previous high level of performance that was interrupted by subpar play, long-term injury or major illness.
- William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
- Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators
- Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights
As is the case every year, the NHL All-Star Skills Competition Friday night in St. Louis was fun, but was weighed down at times with far too many gimmicks — the latest being the “Shooting Stars” challenge, in which stars lofted pucks from an elevated platform, above the heads of fans, and onto the ice below.
Cool, I guess.
(David Pastrnak, who won the Accuracy Shooting event last year in San Jose, only collected 10 points in the “Shooting Stars” challenge).
One of the highlights on Friday? A 3v3 game between a collection of the top US and Canadian women’s hockey players.
Ultimately, the Canadian team won 2-1 in a game that featured two 10-minute periods and a running clock. Rebecca Johnston and Melodie Daoust scored for Canada, while Hillary Knight scored for Team USA.
It was another positive step forward when it comes to exposing more fans to women’s hockey and showcasing these world-class athletes — although we’re only scratching the surface when it comes to growing women’s hockey and expanding the game to more and more markets.
(For those in the Boston area, the Boston Pride of the NWHL are 19-0-0 on the season and put together a great product for anyone looking to catch a game at Warrior Ice Arena. Be sure to check them out — their next home game will be on Saturday, Feb. 15 against Connecticut).