What a leaner David Backes could mean, and other thoughts on the Bruins
A few thoughts and shots now that the Bruins have touched down in Shenzhen, prepared to school the People’s Republic of China in the fine arts of stickhandling, bodychecking, and salary cap management.
■ As noted in this space over the summer, David Backes committed to a stricter diet in the offseason with the hope of slimming down and picking up a half or full step in his skating speed.
We’ll find out soon enough whether his feet move any faster, but the change in diet is clearly evident on his slimmer frame. His face, in particular, is thinner, clear evidence that he lost some 10 pounds and is down closer to 210 from the 221 he played at last season.
“A concerted effort,” said Backes, 34, prior to boarding Tuesday’s flight out of Logan, “in order to continue to clean up my diet after my colon issues last year, and training more in a functional way, rather than a bulky, football sort-of brawn-type of way.
“Let’s get to more battles, and still win them, but let’s see if I can get to a few more. Whether it’s come to fruition or not, we’re about to find out.”
A key, said Backes, was cutting back his intake of refined sugar, which helped him both lose weight and diminish the “sugar spikes and lows.’’
“I was maybe the king of ‘hangry’ — the Snickers bar spokesperson, almost,” he said. “Those don’t come as frequently or dramatic now. Other than that, on the ice, I feel I’m moving a little bit better. Whether that translates into game play we can find out in a couple of days.”
The Bruins face the Calgary Flames Saturday in Shenzhen, then wrap up the trip with a rematch Wednesday in Beijing.
Unless his speed unexpectedly helps him earn a role at right wing in the top six, Backes is pegged to begin 2018-19 on the third line, likely with Sean Kuraly his center. While in China, coach Bruce Cassidy will be auditioning four newbies (Jack Studnicka, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Colby Cave) for the open spot at center.
■ Tuesday’s trade of Adam McQuaid to the Rangers likely will see the Bruins ultimately remove his entire $2.75 million cap hit from their books. Steven Kampfer, acquired in the swap, is only a $650,000 cap hit and he’ll likely be assigned to AHL Providence, removing him completely from the Boston books.
In July, the Bruins added free agent defenseman John Moore from New Jersey for a deal that pays $2.75 million over each of the next five years. Looked at one way, the Bruins swapped in Moore for McQuaid. Look at it another way and they have made at least $2.1 million available for future signings. Right now, they are on target to start 2018-19 with some $5 million in available cap space.
McQuaid projected as the No. 7 or 8 defenseman in Boston, which meant he could go days, if not weeks, without logging ice time. Not good for anyone.
“It wasn’t automatic that Adam would be one of the two out,” said Cassidy, who dresses only six D-men per game. “But if it worked out that way, it would be difficult. Even for the one now, it will be difficult.”
The odd man out most likely will come down to Kevan Miller or Matt Grzelcyk, Cassidy judging who fits best on a given night, depending on the competition.
“It’s tough to see him go,” said Cassidy, who began working with McQuaid 10 years ago when they were both in Providence. “I paired him with Matt Lashoff back in the day. He was a shutdown defenseman for us, and played second power play when we tried to grow his offensive game.
“We’ll miss him as a person and a teammate.”
■ Patrice Bergeron, who remained home and will work out Thursday at the practice rink in Brighton, will enter the season with 963 games on his regular-season résumé.
If he doesn’t miss a beat, the 33-year-old will play career game No. 1,000 on Dec. 23, a 5 p.m. matchup vs. the Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., on the eve of the annual Christmas break. The Bruins then return to action with a home game vs. the Devils Dec. 27 at the Garden.
■ David Krejci was a late scratch from the China trip because of a visa issue. Specifically, said general manager Don Sweeney, the veteran center’s passport didn’t meet the Chinese requirement that all pages be blank. Everyone else in the traveling party presented a clean book.
“They have to be absolutely, completely blank,” noted Sweeney.
Responding to a reporter’s dismay that so many of the players’ passports were stamp-free, a smiling Sweeney said, “Maybe if they’d known beforehand they would have done something about it.”
Translation: For anyone not interested in seeing China, a stamp would have been an easy way to be dismissed.
■ Cassidy, who was in Buffalo for two of the three prospects games over the weekend, was impressed with the play of a number of kids.
On Jakub Zboril (D): “I liked his game. I thought he was more consistent, more assertive. Much improved from the year before.”
Urho Vaakanainen (D) “Good, but I had no real book on him.”
Jack Studnicka (F): “Scored a terrific goal.”
Trent Frederic (F): “Showed that he’ll get to the net and kind of bull his way in there. Scored a nice goal doing that.”
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (F): “Moves well. Makes plays. Would like to see him be more assertive, but now it’s step two for him [in China].”
Karson Kuhlman (F): “Pretty consistent. A little older, coming out of college. But looks like he is very mature, as a person and a player. He would be one to watch, obviously. Flew under the radar a little bit.”
Ryan Donato (F): “Excellent the first game. Second game he was just OK, tried to do a lot.”
Kyle Keyser and Dan Vladar (G): “Both excellent. Our goaltending is set but there is a bit of competition in Providence to see who can get the lion’s share of the net [Zane McIntyre or Vladar]. I thought Vladar took a good first step.”
■ Brad Marchand, when asked how soon on the China trip he’d give up his eyeteeth for a piece of pizza: “There’s got to be pizza over there, right? I’m not worried about that. I’d be more worried if it was dog or cat or something.”