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For Backes, Leadership and Dependability Are Hallmarks

by Eric Russo / Boston Bruins

BOSTON – David Backes has twice scored 30 goals in a season.

He has potted at least 20 goals in three straight campaigns and six times overall. He was an All-Star in 2011 and the Frank J. Selke Trophy runner-up in 2012.

The list of accolades is lengthy.

But perhaps his biggest – and most important – asset is his ability to lead.

Backes wore a letter for seven of his 10 seasons in St. Louis, including the last five as captain. And when the Bruins began to court Backes last weekend that was very much on their minds.

The possibility of adding Backes to a roster that includes other accomplished veterans like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Zdeno Chara was too tantalizing for Bruins general manager Don Sweeney to pass up – particularly with the amount of young players beginning to emerge throughout Boston’s system.

“We have on the horizon a number of young, skilled players that I think will benefit continuing to play with Marchand, with Bergeron, with Krejci, and now with a Backes type,” Sweeney said during a conference call Friday evening to address the signing of Backes to a five-year deal worth an average annual value of $6 million.

“I just think the versatility of this player and the leadership qualities speak for themselves. And his production, we expect it to continue.”

It is unknown if Backes will don a letter in Boston, but whether or not he bears such a symbol will not affect his approach. He is committed to being a good teammate and helping the organization return to the postseason.

The fact that he will be surrounded by a strong core of veterans with championship experience will certainly help.

“You’ve got to be the first guy willing to put team success ahead of individual success,” Backes said in a conference call Friday afternoon.

“If prominent players are putting the team first, the rest of the guys have no choice [but to follow], and that’s a really great culture to cultivate winning and have that be the way that things go.

“And as a group, when you win it doesn’t matter who’s got the statistics personally, everyone’s happy, everyone gets rewarded, and if you win your last game of the year you get to have a bunch of parties and parades. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Much of what appealed to Backes about Boston was the idea that he would be surrounded by so many respected players. Sweeney assured him that the onus would not be placed solely on his back, but that it instead would be a collaborative effort to get the Bruins back on track.

“When you can complement and share the load with a guy like Bergeron and Krejci, that’s the way it was sold,” said Backes, who tallied 21 goals and 24 assists in 79 games last season. “It wasn’t, ‘Hey, we need you to come in and do all the heavy-lifting, take the D-zone draws, and change and the other guys get the posh ice.’

“It was honest, it was genuine…These guys get it. They know what it’s going to take to win. That’s what I want to be a part of and it just sold me on the hockey side.”

Both Sweeney and Backes left open the possibility of Backes moving from center to the wing. Ryan Spooner was the Bruins’ third-line center for most of last season and could shift to the wing himself, leaving Bergeron, Krejci and Backes to fill out the middle of the ice.

Sweeney wants to see how things play out during training camp before any such decisions are made. But – in an ode to his team-first attitude – Backes affirmed that he would do whatever was best for the Bruins.

“I’m into winning games, so if Claude thinks that we’re going to win more games with me playing wing then I’m in,” said Backes. “If he thinks that we’re going to win more games with me playing center, I’m in. Whatever he thinks, I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”

Backes, 32, has played 10 seasons and 727 games during an NHL career in which he has played a heavy, physical style. But the Minneapolis native pledged to be at his best throughout the length of the five-year contract.

He has no plans of slowing down.

“I’m 32. I’m not 52,” Backes said. “I think there’s plenty of legs and plenty of physicality and energy left in me and the term’s been something that maybe a few people have questioned, but for me, I expect to still be at the top of my game for that last year and be a contributing member for the Boston Bruins.”

Backes believes Boston – both on and off the ice – is a natural fit.

“We won’t take a backseat to anyone. It’s Boston Bruins hockey. It’s a blue-collar, hard-nosed, don't-take-crap-from-anybody type of team, and that’s the way that I feel I’ve built my game in 10 years in the league,” said Backes.

“It just seemed like an awesome fit hockey-wise and the more I learn about the New England area and what Boston has to offer for a city from a family-living standpoint, the family life seemed to be a match made in heaven as well.

“We’ll get to experience that in short order, and all in all it’s something that we just had to jump at. I’m glad to be a Bruin.”

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