David Backes estimates that he spends over an hour a day longer at the rink now than he did before he was named captain of the St. Louis Blues.
"There are more interviews, photos, videos, meetings and secretarial duties," he said.
Wait … secretarial duties?
"I don't know if many captains do this, but I operate the team fund as well. Tracking guys down to pay their debts. We do a lot of great charity work around, and that adds to the workload. Along with making sure guys are on time, making sure guys know what the schedule is," he said.
"With that comes a lot of chasing guys down. There's a lot more to do around the rink."
So the 6-foot-3, 225-pound guy comes around to someone's locker for debt collection? Isn't that more Backes The Bounty Hunter than administrative assistant?
"That's kind of the way we're operating right now," said Backes, entering his sixth year with the St. Louis Blues. "Now, I don't know if Chris Stewart or Jason Arnott really care about a 6-3, 225-pound guy. But maybe Andy McDonald will pay his debt this year."
Backes is known as one of the NHL's top power forwards and hardest hitters. What he isn't known for: Being a dirty player, or a player that runs afoul of the League's supplemental discipline system. It's something Backes takes pride in, while having little respect for players that play recklessly.
"Finding a way to either suspend these players or fine these players or discourage teams from putting those kinds of disrespectful, careless players on the ice is something that's paramount to curbing those actions," he told us this week.
Backes sees dangerous hits as a matter of personal responsibility, peer responsibility and employer responsibility. Said Backes, for example: "Pittsburgh, all they could talk about was head hits, and then you have Matt Cooke getting suspended a couple of times."
We discussed the Blues' offseason changes; Backes as an All-Star; and our usual frivolity with the St. Louis captain.
But first, an interesting and honest take from Backes on violence in hockey; one that begins with a discussion about a teammate whose concussion could have ended his career.
Q. Did you believe you'd see David Perron playing this season?
BACKES: If you ever spent time with David Perron, you know how much the kid loves hockey. If there was any way possible, he was going to find his way back. So I was betting we'd see him back.
Hopefully there are no setbacks in his recovery. As a 23 year old, the recovery [for game shape] should be speedy, and we can have him back in early November or maybe even shorter. He's a guy who loves the game and he'll do anything to get back on the ice. It'll be great to see him wearing that Blues jersey.
Did seeing what he went through, and how he was injured on a seemingly inconsequential play by Joe Thornton, change your outlook at all on hits to the head and concussions?
It does hit home a lot harder when it's a guy on your team. A concussion's nothing to screw around with. When a guy's out for a week or two, it's hard. When a guy's out for 72 games, that really stings. As much as you can say 'that affects our hockey team', we care for David as a person and his longevity … you can't play this game forever. You want to make sure he takes his time to come back.
As far as hits to the head, obviously with the speed of the game and the way guys are hitting out there, it's something that needs to be focused on. I think Brendan Shanahan's doing a tremendous job.
But at the same time, hitting's not going to be taken out of the game. You take a look at guys like Cal Clutterbuck, Dustin Brown, possibly myself and guys that have 250 hits a year that haven't been suspended and that you don't see with these questionable hits — it's about respecting your opponent.
Knowing that sometimes, down the line, you're going to be in a vulnerable position too. And if you're going to take the hit on the other guy, karma's going to come around and bite you on the butt.
The more head injuries, the more bad publicity this sport gets for being dangerous, the more kids start second-guessing their participation. Parents start double-guessing their kids' participation too. And the popularity of the game and the salability of this sport goes in the wrong direction.
Are you saying that there's a group of players in the League that make it difficult for the players who play a clean, physical style?
I think that's kind of what I'm saying. Everyone in the League knows how to hit and do it cleanly. I think there are a few guys that either overextend themselves and let their emotions get a hold of them, or are out there looking to get an edge on an opponent and inflict some pain. The result is a wild, out of control hit; or a well-placed hit that ends up on someone's head, that results in someone being put out for a long time.
As a players union, or as a group of guys around the league … Pittsburgh, all they could talk about was head hits and then you have Matt Cooke getting suspended a couple of times. He's got the one incident where he's almost knocking someone's head off with a blindside lateral hit that wasn't penalized in the first place, and then you have the New York Rangers elbow to the chin [on Ryan McDonagh].
That handcuffs Pittsburgh to whine about headshots a little bit, because when Sidney Crosby's out for a half a season — probably the best player in the game — they're trying to talk about it from both sides of their mouth.
It's a tough predicament to be in.
If Matt Cooke settles down, they can pick their side. But there are a lot of teams in those situations. David Perron gets concussed and he's out for most of the year. We had a player in Cam Janssen who took a shot at Matt Bradley. He's wobbly kneed, concussed and doesn't play for a while, and Janssen gets suspended. So we're in the same situation.
There's a lot of it going around. Playing to the edge, but not stepping over the line is something that all players have to take into consideration.
Here's the thing: Cooke has multiples. Jody Shelley had multiples. There are repeat, repeat offenders. Are suspensions even a deterrent?
There are guys who have to play on the edge or have to be agitating or intimidating. They have to get that extra hard hit. Obviously, a guy like Jody Shelley … from second-hand information I'm told he's an amazing person away from the rink. When he gets on the ice, his job and his roster spot are secured by fighting anyone and beating the piss out of them, but also delivering punishing hits.
I think he's gotta play that way to keep his spot. I don't know if teams encourage it. But I don't think Jody Shelley's effective out there if he's not laying those big hits.
Maybe it's that whole role that needs to take a step back.
How do you feel about the Shanahan videos?
I think they're phenomenal.
The fact that if there is a suspension, he just goes right down the list: 'There's no immediate turning, there's an injury on the play, he drives up and through the hit, this guy's a repeat offender, so I've decided to suspend him.'
There's no "what the hell went into this thought process?" You know where you stand.
I hope it clarifies rules for some guys. If a player's got his back turned to you and you finish him into the wall, you're going to get five games. So maybe you pin him or let up on the hit. It's something where there's a mutual respect on both sides of the puck and everyone's safer because of it.
We need to stay healthy. You saw the injuries we had last season. If we stay healthy, we have a pretty good group of guys. If we play as we're capable of playing I don't doubt we'll be playing into April and May.
Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, Kent Huskins and Scott Nichol were all added to the Blues over the summer. There was so much made last preseason about the team being "handed over" to a young generation of players, and then St. Louis stumbled in the standings. Was it necessary to get more of a veteran presence back in the room?
Yeah, we needed more veteran guys. Not just veteran guys but guys that have won Stanley Cups — that have not just been through 10 seasons to be through 10 seasons, but have been through 10 or 15 seasons and have a nice ring in their house in a display case. With that comes a lot of valuable lessons.
[They're] guys that are personable and team oriented. They're not necessarily going to come into the room and take it over. But they know what a winning team feels like to be around. Know what little details need to be taken care of to make that environment be more positive. They're going to be huge assets for us this year.
How do you see Chris Stewart's maturation as a power forward from year to year?
If he doesn't break his hand last year, he's a 30-goal scorer, maybe pushing toward that 40 mark. He has a huge body, he's in better shape now than at the end of the year last year. With the skill and the drive he has to be a great player, I don't see anything holding him back.
To have another big body like him, and to bring in another big body like Jason Arnott as well … to spread that size around the lineup is going to be beneficial. We can put some pressure on the opposing defense.
As for you, you're building off your first All-Star season in the NHL. Do you want them to do the fantasy draft again?
I really didn't mind it. It was something new and innovative. From what I'm told, the fans were loving it. And that whole weekend is a thank you to the fans.
Phil Kessel might have a differing opinion on it. But he got a car to soften the blow.
I would do it in a heartbeat. That was one of my favorite times as a hockey player.
I haven't been on the road lately. At home, I've been getting into "The X-Factor" lately. And a little bit of "Modern Family."
What's on your iPod?
The Band Perry just came to town, and I can't get their songs out of my head.
Your favorite piece of hockey memorabilia?
I don't have a ton, but there was a Garth Brooks Teammates for Kinds charity auction and I won a 1980 U.S. Olympic team framed and signed photo with a couple of tickets from the game and the box score and everything. That's a pretty special piece to me.
You guys are going to fight tooth and nail to get the NHL into the Sochi Games, huh?
I don't want to see what kind of backlash comes from the hockey community if we say we're not going to the Olympics.
The way the last one played out, I don't care where you're at and how many hours difference it is. It's a great spectacle. If you're a hockey fan and the U.S. is playing at 4 a.m., you're not going to hesitate to watch the games.
Also, you have to grow the game in other parts of the world, too. You can't say, 'Aw, it's in North America, that's where we get our bread buttered so we're going to participate' vs. 'Aw, it's in Russia and we're not going to encourage the hockey world to see this on a worldwide stage. They're on their own'.
I see that as a little bit selfish maybe. I think the NHL should be supporting this as well. There are a lot of players from other countries who come here to support this League and we should try to help grow hockey in those countries as well.
Finally, do you use yourself when you play NHL 12, and why or why not?
I have not played a video game in a really long time, but I've got a friend in town who has Down's Syndrome and I played PlayStation against him. He insists on being the Blues and he insists on my being the Blues too.
So I think I've been myself. Playing against myself. And I think I've fought myself a few times on that video game.
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- Jason Arnott
- David Perron
- David Backes
- Matt Cooke