In the time that David Backes was named the captain of the St. Louis Blues, his team has gone from one with potential to a Stanley Cup contender.
So much has changed, including the power of his voice in the dressing room, since Sept. 9, 2011 -- the day Backes got the "C". However, Backes has changed with it in a seamless fashion.
Backes always had a strong opinion; it's just that now it's heard louder than others. He's always played with an enviable combination of power and skill; it's just that now his style tends to define the Blues, who have become one of the toughest teams to play in the National Hockey League.
This season, Backes and the Blues are in a new mode, a win-the-Cup mode. Succeeding will require even more change, even more leadership, an even stronger voice, even more power and skill.
There is a difference between wanting to win and expecting to win. Backes told NHL.com about that and more in the following Q&A:
Here are Five Questions With … David Backes.
After losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the second-round of the playoffs last spring, you said that you guys had gotten too high on yourselves and didn't pick it up a notch when it was necessary. Do you feel that the message has gotten through, or is it still too early to tell?
"You know, it's one of those learning lessons that I think is applicable not only to the playoffs but also to the regular season. Being able to string a bunch of wins together brings you the same challenge. If you win three in a row and everyone is talking about you, you have to remember that there is always someone there to knock you down a peg. We've got to stay hungry. For the most part we have shown consistency, with short memories we're able to put wins behind ourselves to look forward. I think it's working, but it's still a pretty small sample size so far."
What is the difference in mindset and pressure when you expect to make the playoffs, like the Blues do now, as opposed to the time when you were just hoping to get there?
"I think when you're hoping to make the playoffs, you think it's OK to fail and you think about, 'Oh, we lost tonight, but we were slotted to not make the playoffs anyway.' There is always a desire to win, but when it doesn't happen you say, 'If this was different,' or, 'If we had a better team.' There are excuses when you're not expecting it.
"When you're expecting to make the playoffs, it's, 'Let's see results.' If you're not getting them, you're in a mode where things are going to change. I don't think of it as pressure, I think of it as expectations, and when you're prepared for those expectations you don't see it as pressure. I don't think they're parallel by any means."
Last Friday, you received a match penalty for what was called on the ice an illegal hit to the head of the Red Wings' Kent Huskins, your former teammate. It was rescinded by the NHL, but it begs the question: Do you find yourself thinking or perhaps even adjusting your powerful style of play as a result of the crackdown for safety purposes going on in the NHL?
"I'd say there is maybe a little consciously when you get real revved up and emotional about how far you can push the line, but my game in general is pretty honest and respectful. When I'm out there and I'm finishing hits, the first thing in my mind isn't to try to hurt my opponent. Intimidate possibly, but hurt them? I don't see any benefit in that.
"I've earned some rope, if you will, to go out there and play hard, play within the rules, and these hits to the head, that is the kind of ban that should be there. There are a lot of needless hits to the head when you're getting concussions and lasting effects that can really hurt a guy long term. For me, as a taller guy, I try to get down, stay compact, hit guys shoulder-to-shoulder. If there are bruised ribs, that's just part of the game. But trying to give a guy a concussion that could potentially affect his quality of life down the road? No, I want no part of that."
Let's talk about the talk of the team, Vladimir Tarasenko. We've seen some of what he can do already, and it's good, but I'm curious about what you guys -- his teammates -- are doing to help him adjust to St. Louis and the NHL in a way that would allow things to be normal for him, when he's gotta be thinking nothing about this is normal at all?
"It's gotta be tough on the guy. He's not only getting used to a new place to live, but he's getting used to a new place to play, new surroundings, new linemates, a different style of game over here -- and he's done a great job of it. He's got some linemates in Alex Steen and Andy McDonald who have helped him a lot. We've seen how talented he is and that has garnered attention, but when he needs advice more than one person is waiting to answer for him.
"He's done a good job of getting to know the guys and speaking up rather than just sitting there hoping one magical answer comes to him. His English isn't perfect, but it's good enough to get by. You get to see a sense of humor come out. He's not wide-eyed. He's getting in on the jokes, smiling and having a good time. We don't treat him like every other rookie because you want to make sure it's not taken the wrong way, but he doesn't get too many free passes."
Has being captain in St. Louis been what you expected it to be, or have you been surprised by what the added responsibility entails and how it affects you?
"A lot of it has [been surprising]. I'd say what I expected is maybe there is a little bit of notoriety coming with being a captain, more interviews, but what I didn't expect is how much different the responsibilities and the workload is as a guy with a 'C' on your jersey, not only on the ice but in the [dressing] room, at practice, at the end of games, on the road. It seems like I was at the rink two hours a day [before being named captain] and now it's four-plus just trying to make sure all our ducks in a row, that we're controlling the things we can control.
"I relish it. I enjoy it. I don't want it any other way. But, that was surprising to me. I read a couple of [leadership] books on it and then had, first Davis Payne and now Ken Hitchcock as a mentor leading me down a path that would make us be successful. Outside of that I watched Dallas Drake and Eric Brewer here, saw some things they did to make us successful. I tried to learn whatever I could wherever I could."