A day after being relegated to waivers by the Bruins, David Backes remained stuck between the moon and his next shift on Saturday, learning at noon that none of the league’s other 30 teams claimed the 1½ seasons remaining on his $6-million-a-year contract.
Technically, Backes was assigned to Providence, but he will not be headed to the AHL affiliate any time soon, if ever.
According to coach Bruce Cassidy, the 14-year veteran was granted a 9-10-day respite away from the job, allowing him a break that roughly coincides with the varsity squad’s upcoming week-plus vacation that begins after Tuesday’s visit by the Golden Knights.
“I don’t want to speculate,” said Cassidy, asked during his daily media scrum if Backes might be pondering retirement. “He’s getting his [time off], and what he chooses from there is a discussion between him, Donny [Sweeney, the general manager], and his agent.
“I guess we can speculate that he will show up [in Providence], or he won’t . . . [or maybe] he’ll retire.”
Backes, 35, increasingly became a spare part in Cassidy’s lineup the last six weeks with Boston’s stock slipping in the Atlantic Division. A big-bodied winger, no longer utilized as a net-front presence on the power play, Backes was challenged to keep up with the league’s uptempo skating.
With wins scarcer in December and January than they were in October and November, Backes was squeezed out by Cassidy’s desire to go with younger, faster legs, with Par Lindholm and Karson Kuhlman slotting back into the lineup in Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Penguins — the game ending less than 24 hours before the Bruins announced Backes was on the waiver wire.
Lindholm and Kuhlman are expected back in the lineup Sunday afternoon when the Bruins again face the Penguins, this time in Pittsburgh.
Backes, not with the club since last Tuesday’s game in Columbus, on Saturday still had his nameplate in place over his locker at the club’s practice facility in Brighton. It’s possible he’ll be back there one day, though not likely, given the league’s demand for speed and youth.
Sweeney, Boston’s GM since 2015, has tried to build his team around those state-of-the-art dynamics, and made a coaching change, swapping out Claude Julien for Cassidy, three years ago mainly in keeping with his vision of a lighter, faster, more offensive team.
In that sense, Backes, then only in the first year of a five-year/$30 million deal, already was on his way out the door.
A second e-mail to Backes’s agent, Wade Arnott, drew no response on Saturday.
“Backs has been such a great player in this league for so long,” said center Charlie Coyle, his locker adjacent to Backes’s. “You want the guys who are leaders and guys of his caliber to be with you for the full year. We love Backs. Everyone does. He’s been great for us . . . it’s tough to see a guy go through that. It’s not ideal. We do understand the business a little bit, but . . . yeah, you feel for a guy like that.”
“It’s a tough position we’re in,” added veteran winger Brad Marchand, his legs still among the best in the business. “It’s extremely unfortunate any time you see a teammate leave. Especially with Backs. He’s been here for a while. Such an established player. Such a good person. It’s tough to see, but we’re in a bit of a numbers game right now and it’s going to happen again at some point this year — it shows the depth we have within our group.
“But that’s part of the business that just sucks. Can’t always control it and can’t always work out the way you’d like it to. Part of the game.”
. . .
Goalie Dan Vladar was aboard the Saturday afternoon flight to Pittsburgh, filling the roster void left by Tuukka Rask (concussion), but it likely will be Jaroslav Halak in net for the matinee with the Penguins . . . David Krejci, out of the lineup Thursday, again missed practice Saturday and will not face the Penguins. It’s possible the Bruins now will shut down their No. 2 center and allow him the 10-day bye break fully to heal what ails him . . . With Krejci out, Coyle again will center the No. 2 line between Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork . . . The sizzling-hot Boston power play has cooled off, going a combined 0 for 8 over the last two games.