David Backes is fifth on PHR’s Top 50 Unrestricted Free Agents list. In this market the St. Louis Blues captain will command $5MM+ a year despite coming off of his worst season statistically since 2007-08. His leadership, grit, and ability to score timely goals are characteristics valued by NHL GMs and are always in demand.
Backes epitomizes the steady scorer, collecting between 45-60 points a season since 2008. It is his two-way play, however, that garners all the attention. The perennial Selke Trophy candidate’s defensive prowess compares to Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, and Patrice Bergeron. He excels in the face-off dot, and was second to only Alex Steen in team TOI.
St. Louis is the main candidate to sign Backes. The team drafted him in 2003—62nd in a historically stacked draft year—and made him captain in 2011. Backes has been one of the Blues’ top producers year in and year out by consistently finishing near the top of the team scoring leaders. GM Doug Armstrong said in February that trading Backes as an impending free agent at the deadline “would be an injustice” to the team. Armstrong doubled down on his desire to keep Backes in June, telling NHL.com that the team would like Backes back, and are willing to pony up some “thank-you” money. This makes sense as the Blues don’t want to take a step back after making it to the Western Conference Finals last year. It is also rare for teams to lose their captains to free agency, but then again the Blues traded away former captain Eric Brewer before giving the captaincy to Backes. Cap space won’t be a problem, however, as they currently have over $14MM in cap space.
Other suitors would be any team missing out on Steven Stamkos in free agency. Backes will command less in term and in money, which make him an option for thriftier teams. The center would also be a good option for teams with up-and-coming centers not be ready for top line duties yet—teams like Buffalo, Edmonton, and Toronto. Detroit is also a good fit as Backes could replace elite two-way forward Pavel Datsyuk. Backes will not cure any team’s scoring woes, but he will add elite two-way offense and concrete leadership. Expect him to either re-sign with the Blues after testing free agency, or sign with a team looking for more defensive responsibility from its forwards.
PHR predicts that Backes receives a six-year, $34MM contract, averaging out to just over $5.5MM a year. His age (32) brings the dollar amount down slightly. While he embodies the prototypical power forward role, his numbers declined this year and may leave some teams wary of the future. Moreover, his age will take a toll on the more physical aspects of his game. In a market where Andrew Shaw receives $3.9MM a year, however, Backes may cash in on one more payday before the inevitable decline.