We’re two weeks from the start of Bruins training camp, but general manager Don Sweeney has done nothing to extract the albatross of David Backes’ contract from his team’s budget.
Backes, 35, is scheduled to count for $6 million against the Bruins’ salary cap this upcoming season and in 2020-21. That cap charge is a major reason the Bruins, with around $7 million in cap space, have been unable to sign restricted free agent defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton, though, thinks some salary cap relief may be coming to the Bruins when they report for their physicals. Lawton, speaking on NHL Tonight on Thursday, gave voice to the rumors that Backes may be injured after playing in 70 regular season games and 15 games during the Bruins’ run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
As for Backes, Sweeney mentioned a few days after the Bruins season ended that the forward was getting some follow-up tests. But no one has revealed anything about that since.
Backes missed five games in October with a concussion, but otherwise was a healthy scratch when he didn’t play the rest of the season. Backes previously sustained a concussion in Game 5 of the second round series against Tampa Bay in 2018, and he missed three games with a concussion in the 2016-17 season. Those are just the concussions he suffered while playing for Boston.
Whether Backes would fit in on the Bruins after being scratched for nine postseason games, Sweeney said as recently as July 1 that he was figuring on having Backes in camp competing for a job.
“David played very well when he was playing with Sean [Kuraly> and Nordy [Joakim Nordstrom> as well,” Sweeney said. “And then there’s a physicality piece there. So if he comes back to reclaim that position, or higher in the lineup, then that’s up to David.”
In his exit meeting with the press two days after Game 7, Backes didn’t speak about any injury concerns, just his worries that the team lost confidence in him and his contract situation. Backes this summer was able to present a list of eight teams he would be willing to join in a trade.
It wouldn’t be unusual to not find out about a Backes injury until the first day of camp. It wasn’t publicly known what Marc Savard was going through over the 2010 offseason until the Bruins announced his battle with post-concussion syndrome on the first day of camp before the 2010-11 season. Savard had returned from the Matt Cooke hit and played in the postseason against Philadelphia the prior spring.
Were Backes eligible to got on long-term injured reserve, the Bruins would then have to decide whether to utilize that tool. Ownership would have to approve the team spending beyond the $81.5 million salary cap ceiling, and Sweeney would have to determine if it was worth the overage penalties that could affect Boston in the 2020-21 season.
In his NHL Network commentary, Lawton also addressed the McAvoy/Carlo contract situation. Lawton noted that the Bruins don’t have much space to re-sign two top-four defensemen and that McAvoy has been “sensational” enough to warrant a pretty big contract.
However, McAvoy may have to wait for his payday.
“This is where it’s incumbent on Don Sweeney, [Bruins president> Cam Neely and the rest of the excellent staff, management that the Boston Bruins have to convince Charlie, ‘look, just be patient, we will get you paid,’” Lawton said. “Everybody knows he deserves it, they’re just not in a great position to do it right now and to me it’s nothing more than that.”