ST. LOUIS -- Blues forward David Backes just completed his 10th season in St. Louis, including fifth as captain.
Helping the Blues advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time in 15 years, Backes had his most productive playoff with seven goals and seven assists in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games; he had 13 combined points in his previous 29 playoff games.
Backes, who has 206 regular season goals and 254 assists in 727 games, can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 if he doesn't resign with the only franchise he's known since being drafted in the second round of the 2003 NHL Draft. He talks about that possibility, his evolution in St. Louis, an emotional speech following a Game 6 loss to the San Jose Sharks and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.
|Blues captain David Backes
On if he thinks he'll go to free agency:
That is a possibility. We'll see what all shakes itself out. We flew home pretty much on Thursday and had a little camaraderie builder and a couple parties with the group to spend some more time together and enjoy each other's companies before we start heading our separate ways. There hasn't been a ton of time to sit down and collect all the thoughts and start to move ahead to whatever comes next, but we've got the holiday weekend now to kick back and start to organize some of those thoughts. Who knows what we do next?
Is it your hope it works out and you stay in St. Louis?
No question. This is home. We've been here 10 years. This is what we consider home. I don't know anything else. Yes, it would be my hope that something gets figured out, but there's moving parts and different sides and it all needs to align. I haven't even spoken with my agent yet. Hopefully it all works out, but it is the unfortunate side of sports that guys staying with one team is rare. Maybe I'm one of those rare guys; that would be great.
Is part of it wanting to see this thing through?
No question. I've been here when the stands were empty and we were losing every game and we were eliminated in February and the rest was just for show. Those were thin times and now we've gotten to the point where we've reached a Western Conference Final. We're a team that any time you're playing the Blues, you know that you're in for a battle. We've created a great culture here, but those are my off-the-cuff feelings about it. There's obviously a business side for both sides that needs to make sense. That will sort itself out.
Ca you remember the first time when you walked in here, how different is it, how much have you grown?
I've started to cut my hair a little bit more. I walked in here 10 years ago petrified, quiet and not saying much. Now I'm a little more established and confident and a guy that is a leader in this room and that evolution is something that's special, and not just as an athlete, as a person growing from a single guy to a married guy with a kid and starting a family and continuing those sorts of life steps as well. There's been a lot of growth in this room, in this city with a lot of people around this town that have been phenomenal to us. Those aren't relationships that you just pick up if you end up in a different city.
What can the younger players learn from this moving forward?
They were right there for 102 games with all of us. That doesn't include the exhibition or some of the early tournaments that they had to play in. I think they got a real life lesson on the marathon that's an NHL season and goes into the playoffs. For them to have that in their first year, that's heck of a lesson and something that'll benefit them for the rest of their careers. That's a feather in their cap they'll have. They'll see you have a good summer after that and put those lessons into motion and into what you're doing next year. With the impact those guys had on our team and how much better they made us as young kids, as rookies in this league, the future's bright for them and for this team.
Did the playoff year you had help your cause to stay here?
I think it was nice to exorcise that demon of the first round for three years. It was nice to have that success as a group. Personal statistics in playoffs, I wish they didn't keep them because that's not what matters. Who cares who scores the goal? In order to get that opportunity, someone might have made a great defensive play or great save and then turn around, someone draws a penalty, you get on the power play and ultimately someone puts it in the back of the net, but there were a lot of moving parts to have that goal happen. That's why we were so great for two rounds and were able to reach a Western Conference Final. We bought into that sort of mentality that ... I've referenced him a few times, but (Jaromir) Jagr said a few times, 'Who cares who scored; we want to win.' There's a lot of brilliance in that statement.
Why was this group able to come to come together and be as close as it was?
The experience of Troy Brouwer really helps. The warrior mentality that he brings. A guy that doesn't get talked about a lot is Kyle Brodziak and his team-first mentality and the way that he's a foot soldier that is a guy that doesn't have a ton of ice time, but he's the first guy to buy in and willing to sacrifice for the team and that goes a long way with building that team-first mentality that you need in a team sport like this to have success. A guy like Scottie Upshall is in a similar role but is saying all the right things, gives the guys tons of energy and when those guys get on the ice, they walk the walk after they've talked the talk. It gave us a big boost in a lot of different situations that made us all better and gave us a chance at success. We were able to taste that for a few rounds this year.
Did you watch video of your postgame reaction following Game 6 loss?
I think I'm getting a Visine endorsement after that interview. I've seen a bit of it and quite a few people have referenced it. That was real, that was raw, that was my heart right on my face and coming out of my tear ducts. It's one of the hardest things I've done as an athlete is to emerge out of a room and have to face the cameras with that sort of emotion all over the place. In hindsight, I'm glad I came out I talked. I think people could see how much it meant to, and I'm speaking for the whole with that emotion of what that opportunity and this run meant to these guys. That opportunity was still there and we didn't get it done. The sting of that is with every guy in this room.
On what Steve Ott gave you to help you play Game 5?
Someone said that everyone wanted to know what he gave me. Someone said it was performance enhancing drugs and so he wants to sue me for defamation (laughing). That's how he spun the whole thing. He didn't give me any grief. He knows that we've got a great relationship where we know each other, wants to give everything they have o try and win the Stanley Cup. There's definitely a mutual respect there that was started from playing against each other and trying to kill each other and now as teammates has blossomed even further to something that we just get what the other's thinking all the time.
Would you like to see Hitch return and has what he brings been beneficial?
I think so. There's a feeling of unfinished business for everyone in this room. You get two wins away from a Stanley Cup Final, you want another crack at it. He's a guy that's put all the work in, puts a great game plan out there and when we have executed it, it's really tough to beat. The whole coaching staff is in the same situation. Those guys work their butts off and do everything that they can to control what they can control and put something out there for us and give is all the information that we can ever want. It's up to us to execute it. This year, we did a better job than we have in the past and it showed on the ice.
Does Hitch still have the passion to coach?
There's certainly times when he gets under your skin and he's pushing the buttons and he's not your best friend, but I don't know that you want a coach that's your best friend. You want someone that's pushing you and someone that's wanting to make you better and make the team better. He fits all those qualities in a coach. Five years together now, I think he's done one heck of a job.
Did Hitch do anything different this postseason?
No, I think finally in his hockey genius, I think, as far as Xs and Os, I think he like a lot of us said, 'You know what, everyone's counted us out. We're done in the first round. We're playing the defending Stanley Cup champions. Let's put it all out there.' He's going to coach his butt off and we've got to play our butts off. But why not coach your butt off and play your butt off and do everything we can? I think he was at his best when we needed it most in the playoffs. We can say that about a lot of guys in this room and that's why we had success.