When the Boston Bruins take on the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center tonight, it will be quite the homecoming for Bruins forward David Backes. At age 32, Backes is just 35 games into his first season outside of St. Louis after playing his previous 727 games with the Blues. A second-round pick in 2003 out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Backes spent a decade in St. Louis, playing the best part of his career in the shadow of the Gateway Arch. The big forward earned a spot on the team in 2006-07 and never looked back. He became the model of consistency for his teammates, putting in the hard work each and every game and getting the big numbers to go with it. With five 50+ point seasons over the span of ten dominant years, Backes has earned his place all over the Blues’ record books. He’s fifth in games played, sixth in goals, eighth in assists, sixth in points, sixth in +/-, fifth in penalty minutes, and on and on. The Blues captain from 2011 to 2016, Backes left his mark on the St. Louis organization and the city certainly made a life-long impact on him as well. Backes got emotional when the Bruins honored his time in St. Louis when the Blues visited Boston earlier this season, so one can imagine the feelings that will be flowing tonight when he returns home, with his wife and daughter along for the ride as well, watching from the stands they used to sit in for years.
As much as Backes may have fond memories about his time in St. Louis, he is enjoying his new home in Boston and since returning from a concussion, has been playing the best hockey of the season in his first few games back. In fact, St. Louis is likely missing Backes more than vice-versa. Both the Bruins and Blues currently have 47 points on the year, but Boston is positioned well to earn an automatic playoff berth in the weak Atlantic Division, while St. Louis is soundly behind rivals Chicago and Minnesota in the Central Division and are having to fight off Winnipeg, Dallas, and Nashville as well. The Blues have clearly taken a step back in 2016-17, and the team has faced much criticism for letting hard-working, “heart and soul” guys like Backes and Troy Brouwer leave this off-season. Though Backes has only 21 points so far for Boston, the B’s have greatly benefited from his physical play, offensive instincts, and net-front presence. The Bruins are still searching for the right mix up front and have additionally faced some bad luck early on this year. Once they get things sorted out and get rolling, Backes’ ability will be invaluable to their stretch run, and St. Louis will be yearning for the same contribution from their side.
In other news:
- Another player missing the good ole days is Los Angeles Kings winger Teddy Purcell. Despite signing an affordable one-year, $1.6MM contract this summer, Purcell cleared waivers in early December and was sent down to the AHL, where he remains buried. Purcell had just two assists in 12 games for the Kings prior to his demotion, but since has 14 points in 12 games with the Ontario Reign. His coach in Ontario, Mike Stothers, has seen this success and was blunt in his evaluation, simply stating that Purcell is “too good for this league”. While he added that “maybe this (AHL stint) is what he needs to get back up to the NHL”, it’s pretty clear that Purcell’s talent is being wasted in the minors. Just last year, Purcell had a 43-point season split between the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers, and only in 2011-12 did he have his career-high 65-point campaign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. A gifted play-maker and sleek skater, there are surely teams around the NHL who could use his talents. However, with so many squads right up against the salary cap limit, even a measly $1.6MM hit can be problematic. If Purcell is not in the plans of the Kings, expect to hear his name more and more as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches. Los Angeles is willing to move the talented forward and Purcell is eager for another shot, but it’s just a matter of finding a fit, literally.
- Karri Ramo is hoping to find an NHL gig in the coming months as well. Still an unrestricted free agent, Ramo was unable to find a guaranteed job this summer, settling instead for a minor league tryout deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. However, that went over about as well as his summer job search, as Ramo posted an .880 SV% and 3.80 GAA in three games with the Marlies before putting an end to his PTO. ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun spoke with Ramo’s agent, Todd Diamond, who revealed that Ramo had to have clean-up surgery in the knee that he injured in 2015-16, which could partially explain his poor performance in the AHL. Ramo is expected to be back to 100% by mid-February, just in time for a team who missed out on adding insurance in net in the quiet 2017 trade market to take a gamble on an NHL veteran. However, there are not too many teams looking for goalies as of now, especially with Ramo’s top option, the Maple Leafs, solving their problems by claiming Curtis McElhinney off of waivers earlier today. Ramo may be hard-pressed to find a position in the NHL this season, and may be better off rehabbing and working out in anticipation for next year.