Friday, September 9, 2011

Backes gets the nod as new 'C'

Forward becomes 20th captain in franchise history;
Jackman, McDonald, Steen, Langenbrunner named assistants

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The names of Nicklas Lidstrom, Jonathan Toews, Shea Weber and Rick Nash have been synonymous in the Central Division when it comes to leadership.

All have worn the 'C' on their chest and worn it well.

The Blues had been captain-less since they dealt away Eric Brewer in February, but that distinction exists no more.

David Backes can add his name to the Central Division fraternity. He was named the 20th captain in Blues franchise history, which was announced by coach Davis Payne and general manager Doug Armstrong Friday at the team's practice facility inside St. Louis Mills.

The team also announced that Barret Jackman, Andy McDonald, Alex Steen and Jamie Langenbrunner will serve as assistant captains and will alternate pairs at home and on the road.

David Backes becomes the 20th captain in franchise history
"That's something as an organization we take very seriously," Armstrong said in naming a captain. "Davis and I talked extensively over the summer about the right person to become the 20th captain and the assistant captains.

"It's someone that we truly believe can lead this franchise, not only this year but in the future; someone that has a great relationship with Davis, an excellent relationship with his teammates (and) has all the qualities we want in a captain."

Backes, 27, begins the first year of a five-year, $22.5 million extension he signed early last season. He has certainly become the face of this franchise, one that was looking to put in place someone that can lead for the next 5-10 years or even longer.

"Obviously a huge honor," said Backes, who led the Blues in goals (31) and points (62) a season ago. "Some of the guys that have come before me wearing the 'C': Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky, the Plager brothers, Bernie Federko, other leaders of the team, Al MacInnis and the management, guys that I get to converse with and get to learn from every single day. To have those guys around me and to try and follow in their footsteps, hopefully I can do a fraction of the job those guys were able to do.

"Hopefully, I can be the guy that the team looks to when we're having tough times, when we're having good times. I'm a more of lead-by-example hopefully type of guy when we're going out there getting the job done."

Backes, who set a career high in points last season as well as plus-minus (plus-32) and tied career highs in goals and assists (31), was the Blues' second round draft choice (62nd overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He's made the transition from a power forward right winger to a power center and has been a natural as far as a leadership role since Day 1.

"When you walk into our locker room down at Scottrade, one of the first plaques you see is guys that have worn the 'C' for the St. Louis Blues," Payne said. "We feel the guy we're naming here today fits that mold. He's a guy that plays important minutes, plays in quality situations, provides emotional leadership, provides stability, is a leader amongst his teammates, a leader in the community and committed to this city and this franchise long-term. He's a guy who bleeds blue."

Added Jackman, "
He came in with the maturity level of an older guy. He took in everything around him, he learned from a lot of the older guys and learned what it took to be a professional. You see him in the weight room, he works hard. On the ice, he works hard. He's very conscience of the players around him and the people around him. He's definitely a true leader."

"You definitely categorized him as a natural leader," McDonald said of Backes. "Probably even before he had a letter on his shirt, you can see it. The things he does off the ice and obviously what he does on the ice, he was probably one of the best players last year. He led every night by example on the ice. He's a perfect fit for us."
(Getty Images)
The letter on David Backes will change from 'A' to 'C' this season

Four past Blues captains (Bernie Federko, Al MacInnis, Bobby Plager and Rick Meagher) were on hand Friday. They all believe the franchise's choice was a good one.

"He's grown into that leadership role," Federko, the Blues' captain for the 1988-89 season, said of Backes. "He's got time left on his contract and he's even said it himself that he'd like to be here at least another five years or whatever it is and he'd like to stay here and be a part of the Blues forever. It's unfortunate that that's sometimes lacking in the league right now, but things have changed and players move a lot more than they did in my day, but I think David's a fixture here and he'd like to prove that."

There may be some surprise regarding Alex Pietrangelo, who wore an 'A' last season and some felt he could have been pegged the next captain had it not been Backes, or even named an assistant.

But MacInnis, captain from 2002-04, said, "Alex is in a stage in his career where he needs to focus on just playing and becoming the player that he's starting to become, and not have to take on worries that a young player might take on too much too early. So I think it's important that we allow Alex just to play and become the player that we all think he's going to be. He made leaps and bounds last year and he's fun to watch and he's going to be a huge part of this franchise for many years."

Backes, the team leader in hits (213) a season ago, said just because he will wear a 'C' now, doesn't mean that will alter what he has been and what he can become.

"I'm not going to change who I am, I'm not going to change the way I've played," he said. "It's just go about business and make sure that I'm doing all the things that made me successful. Just a little bit more spotlight or a little bit more emphasis on everything I do is maybe looked upon by a younger guy or someone else.

"We're going to lean on each other as a whole to lead this team and to make sure that we're getting the job done and we're back in the playoffs where the Blues were for 25-plus years in a row. We need that tradition to come back and come back in a good way."

Backes also likes the idea of being lumped together with the other captains within the division. He'd like to beat them as much as possible, too.

"What a great honor and challenge to face, especially in our division," Backes said. "You look at Nik Lidstrom, Jonathan Toews, Shea Weber, Rick Nash, guys that are all world class players. To be seen in the same light as them and to lead my troops against their troops, what a great challenge, what a great opportunity to not only play against them but to get the better of them on a regular basis.

"There's no promises as far as victories, but the effort and dedication and will that our team is going to show is going to be second to none."

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