BOSTON - The Bruins continued some of their roster tweaking on Friday afternoon with the announcement that veteran winger David Backes had been placed on waivers with the purpose of assigning him to Providence.
It was, no doubt, a difficult decision, given what Backes - an alternate captain - has meant to the dressing room during his three-plus seasons with the Black & Gold.
"The impact that he's had ever since he got here, on and off the ice, his leadership that he brought…him and his wife, his family, have been doing tremendous work in the community but also in this locker room," said fellow alternate captain Patrice Bergeron.
"He was a big part of the mentality that we've built here. We wish him all the best. We're going to miss him."
Backes was signed to a five-year, $30 million contract on July 1, 2016, after spending the first 10 seasons of his career in St. Louis, the last five of which he was the Blues' captain. The Minnesota native brought that same professionalism and leadership to Causeway Street and became an integral part of the Bruins' dressing room.
"David is a very valuable player," said Zdeno Chara. "He brings so much to the team. We all love David. It's just very unfortunate that there are hockey decisions. As players, you have to go along with them and respect them. David is obviously very much respected and loved by all of us."
Video: Bergeron talks with media following practice
In the end, however, the Bruins felt that waiving Backes - who had dressed for just 16 games this season - was in the interest of the club moving forward, particularly with young wingers Karson Kuhlman and Anton Blidh returning to full health.
"It's something that we had discussed internally with [Bruins GM Don Sweeney]," said coach Bruce Cassidy. "We just felt that there were some guys coming healthy, like we did with [waiving Brett Ritchie on Thursday], in terms of Kuhlman. Blidh is getting closer. Are we going to look at younger guys?
"We just felt that, at the end of the day, you do what's best for the team, what makes you the best team. Ultimately, Donny put him on waivers feeling that that was the best thing. From here, we'll see where it goes for David."
Backes posted 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 74 games during his first season in Boston in 2016-17 and added 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 2017-18 as part of a strong third line with Danton Heinen and Riley Nash. Backes, however, played just 57 games in his second season as illness (diverticulitis) and other injuries limited his playing time.
Those injury troubles - including several concussions - continued over the last two seasons, making it more difficult for Cassidy to find Backes an established spot in the lineup.
"I have a lot of respect for the person as a human being, what he's accomplished in this league," said Cassidy. "We brought him in to give us some of that bite - that's been a subject around here for the last few days…it was there for a while and then some concussions came into play. I think that affects your decision as a coach when you put a human being on the ice.
"We saw that a little bit last year with David, trying to play a little bit into that role and found himself in two or three scraps. I don't know if that's the ideal role for him. But good for him to go out and try to carve a way to get back into the lineup.
"As a coach, I told it to the players, as a guy that you know as a dad, who has two young [kids], you always want to be careful that you're pushing guys to play a certain way. Now you've got a guy who knows he might be one hit away from having some damage.
"You've got to be careful with that. I know it's a business but that is the human side of it…that was a bit of an issue for me to push him in that direction."
Video: Cassidy addresses media following Friday's practice
Going Day by Day
After missing Thursday night's win with an upper-body injury, David Krejci once again stayed off the ice on Friday morning and remains day-to-day, per Cassidy.
"He's here in the gym doing off-ice workout," said Cassidy. "Then it becomes if he doesn't play Sunday, is he better off taking the whole [All-Star] break off? Let's see where he's at tomorrow and see if he skates and go from there."
Bergeron checked off yet another accomplishment on Thursday night by scoring his 20th goal of the season, the seventh consecutive season and 11th time in his career that he has reached that mark. The pivot, who also has 20 assists, passed Rick Middleton (10 times) for the second-most 20-goal campaigns in Bruins history and now trails only Johnny Bucyk (16).
"To me, it's about what we are able to accomplish as a line, what we are able to bring to the team," said Bergeron. "You want to help whichever way you are able to do that, obviously - contributing offensively is a part of our role. But for me, again, I don't sit back and look at numbers to judge the way that I play and I take a lot of pride in a lot of details that a lot of people don't see or for me that's what it's all about."
Video: PIT@BOS: Bergeron fires wrist shot past Jarry
Kuhl, Calm, Collected
Kuhlman returned to the Bruins lineup on Thursday night, marking his first game since Oct. 19 when he suffered a broken right fibula after being struck by a Jake DeBrusk shot in Toronto. After a four-game rehab stint in Providence, the winger got the call to the big club for its tilt against the Penguins and did not disappoint.
Kuhlman picked up the primary assists on Boston's first two goals, delivering a quick feed to Sean Kuraly at 10:03 of the first period and a beautiful shot-pass to Par Lindholm just 2:13 later to help the Bruins open up a 2-1 lead.
"It was just great to be back, to be honest with you," said Kuhlman. "A lot of adrenaline, my legs were, my conditioning was there. I was happy with where we were at. Just to help the team get a win tonight was awesome."
The 24-year-old, who played mostly alongside Danton Heinen and Lindholm, brought the exact type of energy and intensity that Cassidy expected, given how well Kuhlman played during his stint with the Black & Gold last spring.
"He can get up, get motoring, get on pucks, get on defense, win some races," said Cassidy. "I mean, [on Thursday night] he obviously chipped in a little bit of offense, good for him. We expect some level of offense and to get it right away is a nice win, it's nice to have that production….all in all, Kuhly, nice night for what he brings and we're happy to have him back."
Video: Locker Room Raw: Karson Kuhlman
All on the Line
In addition to Torey Krug's willingness to drop the gloves and the physicality delivered by Chris Wagner and Kuraly, Boston also showed off its toughness in another form on Thursday night.
Joakim Nordstrom, who has become a shot-blocking machine of late, stepped in front of another slapper during a second-period penalty kill and briefly retreated to the dressing room. Nordstrom eventually returned and his effort were much appreciated by his Black & Gold brethren.
"A guy like Nordy is doing it every game, blocking big, big shots," said Chara. "He's putting his body out there. It's such a valuable player for us. Obviously, Torey stepped up by standing up for himself and his teammates. It gave us a lot of energy. It's great when you see different guys stepping up."
Video: Chara recaps win over PIT on Thursday