Tough Decision Awaits David Backes as Stint with Bruins Comes to End

The Boston Bruins waived veteran forward David Backes last week. On Saturday, Backes cleared waivers, and now he has to make the decision: What is next for him and for the Bruins?

Firstly, Backes didn’t have to report to Providence right away. He had a chance to enter the mandatory bye week break combined with an All-Star break. After that, he has to come up with the decision, probably the most challenging of his career.

The most improbable option for Backes would be to retire in the coming days. For the Bruins, that would be the best news from a business standpoint. If Backes opts for retirement, the Bruins would shed his $6 million annual contract off the books. No cap-recapture penalty would be present with $6 million of the cap hit saved.

Bruce Cassidy himself revealed he doesn’t trust Backes anymore. Cassidy knows that Backes would insert a physical aspect to the Bruins lineup when playing. However, Cassidy fears that demanding a player with two kids and concussion history to lay out hard hits on the ice is something he cannot do.

Backes can opt to wait until the season expires without participating much on the play and wait for the Bruins to buy him out in the summer. Nevertheless, that’s not likely, because Backes would hardly find any suitor to sign him in free agency. Last year, we saw many experienced free agents not receive a contract; Jason Pominville, Dion Phaneuf, or Thomas Vanek are a few such players.

After practically not playing for the whole 2019-20 season, as a 36-year-old player with a concussion history, he would hardly find any new team. That’s why the Bruins have to be careful. A buyout in the 2020 summer would mean a practical retirement for Backes. However, the Bruins would still have to assume a $4 million salary cap hit for the 2020-21 season. Retiring before that would save the Bruins a ton of salary cap space.

The question remains, though: What route will Backes and the Bruins choose? Cam Neely, the Bruins’ president, doesn’t expect Backes to retire. 

The 35-year-old veteran is a highly-respected professional. To go down to play hockey in the AHL and re-find his game is something more suitable to him. If he declines, he would violate his contract conditions. He would have an option to terminate it, but it would require him leaving the money on the table and becoming an unrestricted free agent. From a financial standpoint, the Bruins would shed his salary.

Nonetheless, the David Backes saga is not about his monstrous cap hit but about a player simply not fitting for Boston. Whether it’s his performance level or Cassidy’s fears about his health, it seems like Backes has little to offer the Bruins.

Does Backes retire as Providence Bruin in the AHL? Does he give up playing and let the Bruins assign him to the LTIR? Does he wait for the Bruins to buy him out and try playing elsewhere?

One incredibly tough decision is in front of Backes. We should know more in the coming days and weeks.

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