Blues captain nominated for Selke Trophy because of his consistent two-way play
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- On nights when it's time to go home and shut the workday down, David Backes is one that doesn't take his work home with him.
At least most of the time.
Backes, the Blues' center and first-year captain, prefers to devote his time and attention to wife Kelly and their pets. Both are advocates for various charities, including David's Dogs and Kelly's Kats. These organizations work to get needy stray pets placed in loving homes, as well as raise money for various shelters and awareness for animal awareness campaigns. It's part of who Backes and his wife are away from the rink.
But at home?
Blues captain David Backes has sacrificed personal accolades to
become a consummate team player. He's a finalist for the Selke Trophy.
"At home, we don't talk a whole lot of hockey," Backes said Monday morning. "When I'm here for four hours a day, it's pretty intense decision-making and going through the paces and getting things done. When I get home, it's nice to have a little retreat. ... It takes me away from her. But she played in high school and there are times I do need to vent to her. She's pretty good at keeping me level-headed and talking me off the ledge. It's a lot of self-reflecting and the coaching staff and some of the other leaders I think would be the guys that I really hash it out with."
Backes, who was nominated as one of three finalists Monday [along with Boston's Patrice Bergeron and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk] for the Frank J. Selke Trophy which is given to an NHL forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game, is the heart-and-soul of a Blues team that's flied under the radar all season long.
He typifies what underrated means in the utmost fashion and would become the first Blues since former captain Rick Meagher  won the award.
"It's quite an honor and a humbling regard to be seen in that light by the writers and the guys voting on it," Backes said. "That being said, it's not singular. I feel a lot of debt to guys like T.J. Oshie, who I play almost every shift with. Some of the other guys that play the left side like [Alex] Steen, David Perron, the defensemen, the goalies ... they've all chipped in to create that atmosphere for good team success and then comes in individual honors like that."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the award, "That's one of the most valuable awards in the league. That went from a checking award to now, a two-way award. You look at the players that are there, they're 200-foot players.
"Every player that gets nominated now is a guy that's able to contribute offensively but is a conscientious two-way performer. I'm really proud of him because he personifies the way we want to play the game, the way our team wants to play the game, the way we want to be seen in the NHL. To me, he carries the mantle. I think that award is almost as valuable as the most valuable player award. I really believe that. I believe anybody that wins that award, with the way the game of hockey's played right now, that's a significant award to win because it's now being looked at in a different environment. ... It was a checking award [in the past], it was a shutdown award and now it's changed. I'm really proud of David on that."
Backes, the pride of Minnesota State-Mankato at 6-foot-3 and 225-pounds, is not foreign when it comes to captaincy. He was the Mavericks' choice in 2005-06 to wear the 'C.' His style of play doesn't fit the bio of most NHL captains. He's not among the leading scorers nor fills up the stat leader boards. But Backes' will and determination and leading-by-example on both ends of the ice is what exemplifies what his teammates see.
"Not really a rah-rah guy," teammate T.J. Oshie said. "He says stuff when it needs to be said. He gives guys the normal talk that [Barret Jackman] does or that [Jamie Langenbrunner] gives. He doesn't go overboard. He's mostly a lead-by-example guy and he does that very well.
"... I think the one big step that he's taken is how unselfish he is. You want to look to your leader and know that that guy's going to go to work for you and a guy's going to do anything for you when it comes down to it. He does that. He's taken on a role right now where they're telling him that, 'Hey, you're not going to get 10 scoring chances a night. We need you to defend the top line because he's our best checker. He's our best down-low guy in the defensive zone.' He's taken pride in that, but it's a hard thing because everyone wants to score goals. He's taken pride in shutting down their top line from scoring. You can't do anything but gain respect from your team when you do something like that."
It's the only way Backes knows how to do things.
"I've always been a believer that you can yell and talk and rah-rah all you want, but unless you're out there being the first guy in the battle and leading by example, those words fall on deaf ears," Backes said. "That's kind of my thing. If we have a tough period, for me to come into the locker room and scream and yell and try to get guys going that way, to me, it's wasted energy. I need to be the first one on the ice for the first shift to set the example and lead that way. It's a lot more effective way than the verbiage."
Backes, who tied with Oshie on the Blues for the team lead in points  but led them with 24 goals, doesn't mind that he's not among those players talked about when discussing the gaudy numbers the Sidney Crosbys, the Evgeni Malkins, Steven Stamkos or the Claude Girouxs put up. If he can step onto the ice and shut those guys down while helping his team earn wins, that's what satisfies the mind on those drives home.
"We're an evolution, at least where St. Louis Blues hockey is going ... we don't have guys that are going to put up 100 points a year, score 60 goals a year," Backes said. "We need complete players that are hard to play against at both ends, being responsible in the defensive end, trying to create turnovers that turn into offense has been a focal point. It's going to have to continue to be a focal point."
Hitchcock said Backes could be one of those elite-number players, but ... "He could be a different player. He could get more points, but we probably wouldn't get as many wins if he got more points. He's bit the bullet in some areas so that the team can win. We're really happy for him.
"Captain is a symbol, but to me, more a leader. Your leader has to be able to show you the way to play. When he's on top of his game, he plays that strong, 200-foot game. For me, the 'C' doesn't mean as much as he's the head of [the] leadership group. He's the voice for five or six guys on your hockey club that sets the tempo and the environment that you want to play in. He set a very good environment for us to play in."
This is a familiar sight from David Backes (42), checking the opposition
and making life difficult for his opponents.
Backes, 27, has learned a lot. Leaning on players like Jackman, Langenbrunner, Andy McDonald, Steen, Jason Arnott, Scott Nichol among others has helped him fit into a role the Blues will need for years to come.
"It's been quite a year," said Backes, a Minneapolis native who was drafted in the second round in 2003. "There's been a lot of learning with the captain role but I think still growing as a player altogether. There's a lot of things that I've learned that ... whether I'm going to state them all or not, I think there's a lot of things that we've done very well this year, but there's some things that will change in the future that I've learned we'll be better off in the future from going through a few trials and tribulations."
Being named Blues captain, Backes will forever be entrenched with names like Brian Sutter, Bernie Federko, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger and Wayne Gretzky. But one things those great names were never able to accomplish that Backes will hopefully get a chance to do with a younger and promising team: win the Stanley Cup. It would be quite the honor.
"I think we're a ways away from that," Backes said. "If something like that happens ... those things don't sink in until I think you're maybe not even playing. The accomplishments, the accolades as they're happening, you've got to take them in stride because you start thinking too good about yourself and you start to dip a little bit.
"We'll just keep pushing forward and then when all is said and done and I'm sitting at home one day, we'll think about how good one instance was or how impressive what we were able to do was."