Thursday, September 9, 2021

Backes signs one-day contract, retires as a Blue

Former captain, second-round pick in 2003 spent 
10 of 15 seasons in St. Louis, call it a career at age of 37

ST. LOUIS -- In a fitting gesture, David Backes will hang up the skates where it all began.
Backes and the Blues consummated a one-day contract on Thursday so the former Blues captain could retire from the NHL where his career began, in St. Louis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes signed a one-day contract on Thursday and retired
from the NHL as a member of the Blues, where he played 

The 37-year-old spent 10 of his 15 seasons as a member of the Blues, who selected the Minneapolis, Minn. native in the second round of the 2003 NHL Draft. He signed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent following the 2015-16 season before finishing out his career the past year-plus with the Anaheim Ducks and played in his final NHL game against the Blues at Enterprise Center on May 5.

"After seeing Barret (Jackman) do that (in 2016), it really clicked with me that that was an awesome opportunity and to have that has been phenomenal," Backes said of signing a one-day contract with the Blues. "Last year was a difficult year for everyone with COVID and then you put in protocols and the lack of fans and a little bit of isolation. I spent a ton of time on the taxi squad, which is sub-optimal, played 15 games or so. 

"I wanted to play 1,000 games so the idea was just one more year, but then you start thinking of of the practicality of, 'OK, it's an 82-game season, does somebody even want me, first of all?' And then if you're on a team, are you able to get in a lineup for 35 games, stay healthy. I've had some health issues obviously in the past. I felt like the game was kind of done with me and truthfully, I felt like I was mostly done with the game as well. So I think it felt right with the ending we were able to have. Does 35 more games to get me to 1,000 somehow many me feel whole inside? I don't think it does. I think it's all these memories that are coming back and the people that have messaged me today and the sentiment that was shared with the places I've played and people I've connected with. That's really impactful to me. I have been gone for a lot of kids' activities and things and it's time for me to reconnect with family and be present and be grateful for all the opportunities we did have. But now to be in this next chapter, which just feels right, and again, the script seems too good to be true of how it ended and now the Blues being interested in a one-day contract so I could come back there and end this where it all began."

So Backes closes a career that saw him play in 965 regular-season games and 82 Stanley Cup playoff games; he finished with 561 points (248 goals, 313 assists) in the regular season and another 39 (17 goals, 22 assists) in the playoffs as one of the tougher two-way centers to play in his time after coming out of Minnesota State University-Mankato as a right wing. He finishes his career seventh in Blues history in games played (727), seventh in goals (206), 10th in assists 254), seventh in points (460) and fifth in penalty minutes (969).

"I'm hoping that, well, I think that's something other people have to decide how I will be remembered," Backes said. "How I hope to be remembered was a guy that gave it all and did everything in my power and didn't waste an opportunity, left it all on the ice and was a great teammate to the guys I was wearing the same sweater as. The statistical component of it, the on-ice success as a team, that is what it is, but if I'm remembered as a guy that was dependable, that was responsible, that cared for people and then went out there and did it myself, to me, that's all that matters as I leave this game."

Other than winning the Stanley Cup, Backes couldn't have scripted a better exit from the game, playing his last game where it all began and to have so many of his ex-teammates, including David Perron, Jaden Schwartz, Colton Parayko and others there to greet him afterwards in an emotional setting with his wife and parents in attendance.

"Maybe option A is to win a Stanley Cup in your last game," Backes said. "Option B was probably my last week in the league went with the two games in St. Louis, played my last game there and then the final two games for the Ducks were in Minnesota where I grew up obviously. I didn't play a game there, but I was able to be home by family, have some friends come out to those games just to share a little NHL experience one more time with them. I can't believe that's the way my last week went and I'm so grateful for it. That reception in St. Louis is something that's cinched in my brain and all those festivities meant a ton to me. I'm happy that I can have this opportunity to be a part of the Blues organization again at the end of my career."

Backes was captain of the Blues from 2011-2016, and also fittingly, was named the 20th captain in Blues history 10 years ago to the day on Sept. 9, 2011 but signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Boston Bruins after helping lead the Blues to the Western Conference Final. They lost to the San Jose Sharks in six games, and one of the lasting memories was the emotional interview Backes gave after the Blues fell in Game 6, almost a feeling then he knew he possibly played his final game in St. Louis with pending free agency looming and knowing how close the Blues were to reaching the Cup Final for the first time since 1970.

That playoff run was the one memory Backes said will remain with him and one he'll always remember.

"The one moment to me is in 2016 Game 7 against Chicago in the Scottrade Center and everything leading up to that knowing everything that rested on that game," Backes said. "I truly believe if we don't win that game and the lack of success we had in the playoffs in years prior that it might be a complete teardown of that team because we just couldn't get past Chicago and maybe they get some more momentum from winning that first round and they win another Cup. There's a lot of things that really pivoted on that game. Instead we win, we beat Dallas in seven games in the second round and then we're into the conference finals and it's like, 'We've got something here and this doesn't need a full re-do. This needs a couple tweaks and we're right on the doorstep or it needs a couple bounces or it needs one more piece here or there and all of the sudden, we're at the promised land.' I think certainly it happened. 

"Unfortunately, I wasn't a part of it, but I think a couple years later, you get ... not that it was Hitch's fault or Mike Yeo's fault, but you get a new coach (Craig Berube) that's got more of a workmanlike background and emphasis and guys accept roles and a goalie gets hot, and all of the sudden, that step is taken in quite a turnaround year. I think we all felt that that was a possibility after we made that run in 2016. That moment, I'd say in Game 7. I think Troy Brouwer was the most seasoned guy and was a former Blackhawk and had a big game that game. All those memories of going into that game and the nerves, being on Cloud Nine after that game are certainly burned into my brain."

Backes reached his Cup Final, and of course it had to be against the Blues in 2019 and the one time the city is glad he fell short of winning it all at that time.

"There was so much emotion wrapped up into that," Backes said. "Some players never make it to a Stanley Cup Finals and play 15 years, I'm grateful for that opportunity. When I left St. Louis, I said if the team I was playing on wasn't going to win the Cup, I hoped it would be the Blues, and as much as that was a bitter pill to swallow that year because I had hoped to win a Cup, I was happy for the city of St. Louis. At the same time, my guts were ripped out from being so close and not winning it."

Backes played a role in helping many current and former Blues into the NHL players they are today, including among them, Perron, Schwartz, Kevin Shattenkirk, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo, who Backes passed the captaincy to when he left as a free agent. Backes was also USA teammates with Oshie and Shattenkirk at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

"The list you have stated, I think the friendships that you make when you play together are ever-lasting and to see some of those guys succeed and the professional realms of their hockey careers and know that they're passing that along to the next generation, they're just good, quality humans and to connect with those guys, that really hit home for me last year when Kevin Shattenkirk and I were able to reconnect on a professional level with the Ducks and just that mutual respect and admiration that we had for each other of we got an opportunity to play together again and that was kind of full circle for our relationship and now he's still in town playing and I'm going to be watching," Backes said. "Now I get to be a huge fan of those guys and cheering them on and hoping for their success and that I can have a little bit of a side saddle for what they're able to do in their careers. Those are opportunities that I'm so grateful that I was able to take and to pour into some of those guys to help them along. Hopefully it was equally enjoyable for them along the way."

When Backes departed St. Louis, he handed the captain's 'C' off to Pietrangelo, who took the reigns and wanted to make sure he lived up to No. 42's tenure as the leader of the franchise. The two have become best friends and Backes was in Pietrangelo's wedding when he was married.

"One of the best leaders I've ever been around," Pietrangelo said. "One of the best leaders in terms of demanding a lot from his teammates and being respectful at the same time. And having followed up him being captain for me, I'm actually grateful I learned from him, not only as a friend but as a leader and as a player. ... It was a fun time to spend together. Unfortunately, I wish it would have lasted, both of our careers, but we had some good battles along the way after he left.

"He always said stay true to who you are and never change that. That was one of the things I remembered. Even when I got named captain, he wrote me a nice note about me as a person and as a player and things that I can always learn from him. David takes so much time to care about other people, and so does Kelly. When I got named captain, it wasn't David trying to step on my toes but the phone calls were always, 'How can I help? How can I help you? What can I do to help? If you have any questions, what can I do to to make this easier for you?' I said to him (Thursday), I'll always be grateful for that because that's the type of person he is and his wife it as well."

Shattenkirk, who played with Backes in St. Louis from 2010-2016 and again with the Ducks last season, feels Backes should be remembered as someone who laid it all on the line on a nightly basis and was more than happy to be his teammate.

"First and foremost, a fierce competitor," Shattenkirk said. "I think that was something you knew you were always going to get out of him. He was willing to do anything for his team to win, and I think he recognized when he might have had an off night, he would find different ways to chip in whether it be great on the penalty kill, good on the face-off dot, willing to stick up and fight to try to change the momentum of a game. In my mind, that's someone who just wants to win at all costs. I think that's something that I'll always remember about him.

"... I'm even happier that I got to play with him last year and be a part of his final season after going through everything in St. Louis and knowing the role he had in St. Louis being our captain and being the leader of our team and seeing him transition into a different role last year was refreshing. There was just a lot less on his plate. I think he really enjoyed the game and soaked up the life of being in the NHL and realizing how special it is. I think when we were in St. Louis, we had such great teams and we were fighting tooth and nail to try to get to the ultimate goal, but a lot of that was the culture that he instilled and he was a part of as a leader of that group. To be able to play with him and to become a teammate of his but more so obviously become a friend of his. We live three blocks away from each other out here in California. I've just been really glad that I've still been able to connect with him and see where the road kind of takes him from now on."

And if that doesn't convince you how great a teammate Backes was, remember the Backes-Vladimir Tarasenko scuffle in practice some years back? Shattenkirk said there was a purpose for it, and as captain, realized then how much Backes cared.

"One of my favorite 'Backs' stories was when we had practice at Scottrade and I remember he and Vladi got into a fight during practice," Shattenkirk said. "I know it caused a big stir and I think everyone was like, 'What the hell is going on here?' But the purpose of it really I think was what 'Backs' saw. He saw a young, really talented player who needed to also realize that the way to make it in this league was to work hard and not to take shortcuts in practice, do the right things day in and day out. I think Vladi recognized that as well. After the dust had settled and they both talked, realized how much 'Backs' cared and I think that's just something from me. He's always been someone as a hockey player that I could always count on as a player to give it his all and I think that I'm just forever grateful for it because when you're a young player coming into the league, you look to your leaders and you feed off the examples that they set and I think that's something that he did a great job showing me as a young player."

Pietrangelo added: "I think Shatty took the words out of my mouth. I couldn't agree more. What David's doing is exactly that. You have a player, a talented young player and I think if you talk to Vladi now, he's probably like, 'Yeah, David was right.' Shatty is right on point with what he said. David as a leader, that was his way of showing to not only Vladi, but everybody else on the team, myself and even Shatty at that point, Bergy, all those guys. We were all still fairly young. If you want to make it in this league, you've got to demand a lot from yourself every single day. You knew what you were getting from David day in, day out. Practice, game, you were going to get all of it, you were going to get a guy who loved being at the rink. He expected a lot from you as a teammate in the most respected way and I think it made all of us better players and better teammates."

For now, Backes said he wants to be a family man and husband to wife Kelly and their two kids, but does a future in the NHL interest him at all? Perhaps one day, but not right now. And should he ever want to call St. Louis home again, that door will remain open for an eternity.

"Would I like to coach? Coaching is kind of, to me, it's more travel and more time than when I was playing," Backes said. "In my ideal goal No. 1 is to be present with my family and my kids and then if I can stay in the game in some role that allows me to do that, that would be incredible and maybe a year or two down the line, but I do love the game and I'd love to be some sort of influence on a team setting because that's really what I relished as part of the game the most was that team setting and saying, 'Hey, it's me and my guys against you and your guys and we're going to win in whatever way we have to.' Maybe in time, but immediately, we're going to spend a year as a family, so thank you for that.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (left), battling with Chicago's Jonathan Toews in 2014, closed
his NHL career with 460 of his 561 points with the Blues.

"We were back (in St. Louis) mid-August. (Former Cardinals pitcher) Kyle McLellan was having a charity event for his Brace for Impact organization that he does and just to see the welcoming we had at that event, and that was Cardinal-based. ... The moment at the Cardinals game when I signed with Boston in free agency, the ovation there, it really just drilled down if that connection and that 10 years there, connecting with the community, how much that mattered. We loved the city there. When we're there, it's like, 'We're back home.' And the people when we're there seemed to think that we never left and they embraced us like like we were still playing there. That is a special connection that is irreplaceable and that will be lasting. For me at least on my side, we will forever love St. Louis. Whether we end up back there or not, time will tell. It's a special place in our hearts and the people make it that way for sure."

Now all that's left is to get initiated into the illustrious Blues alumni group.

"I don't know what that entails," Backes said. "I'm hoping that it's not as rigorous as my initiation into the NHL, but if that's what it is, I'm willing to pay that price to join that group."

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