David Backes wasn't his best in 2012-13. The captain of the Blues made opponents pay with crushing checks and played with the heart and emotion you'd want from a leader, but he struggled offensively. He really, really struggled offensively.
Backes scored just six goals in 48 games last season. He posted a very respectable number of assists (22), but goals proved elusive. After scoring 24 in 2011-12 and 31 in 2010-11, many assumed Backes would be one of the team's leading scorers in the abbreviated campaign. Not so much.
Backes' other skills and determination out on the ice allowed fans to give him a pass for his massive decrease in scoring. Should fans be concerned about Backes heading into 2013-14, or will we see a massive rebound from the forward?
If you read the title of this article, you already know my opinion on what I think the future holds for Backes.
It's important to remember that the lockout played a major role in Backes' weak season. A notoriously slow starter, Backes didn't have his usual amount of time to prepare for the 2012-13 season. When you add in the fact Backes was one of the main representatives for the players during the lockout, it's safe to assume Backes' mind was more focused on legal matters than it was on training and working on his shot. Backes should benefit from a full training camp and from a summer void of lockout drama.
Backes' low goal total wasn't for a lack of chances. Like many other players on the roster, Backes would pull out the ol' Brad Boyes strategy and fire the puck high and wide when presented with a golden opportunity. This statement is difficult to prove unless you watched Backes on a nightly basis, but his shooting percentage from last season (6%) helps paint part of the picture.
Prior to 2012-13, Backes' shooting percentage over his first six seasons in the NHL was just over 12.18%. He scored 126 goals on 1,034 shots. Thanks to last season's struggles, his career shooting percentage dropped to 11.6%. Even with the dip, Backes' career average in the shooting percentage department illustrates just how badly he shot in 2012-13. Was last year a fluke? It would appear that way if you look at his previous six years in the NHL.
It's worth noting that Backes ended the 2012-13 regular season on a decent note. January, February and March were dreadful, but April saw Backes improve and look more like the power forward fans are used to watching. Check out his progression through last season.
January: 1 goal, 4 assists (5 points), 7.7% shooting in 7 games.
February: 1 goal, 6 assists (7 points), 5.0% shooting in 12 games.
March: 1 goal, 6 assists (7 points), 2.6% shooting in 14 games.
April: 3 goals, 6 assists (9 points), 10.7% shooting in 15 games.
Though I mentioned that Backes was subscribing to the Brad Boyes shoot it wide theory, the bulk of his shots did find the net. He missed completely with 32 shots, a number which is the second highest for a St. Louis forward behind Alexander Steen, but 79 shots were on frame. In my opinion, this indicates that Backes was just a touch off during the year. His shots were on target, but they weren't finding any corners or open space.
Was pressure an issue? At times it appeared Backes was trying to do too much. That's not to say you should blame him as he was trying to get his team going as they suffered through some miserable offensive droughts. Add in injuries to key weapons and slumps from others, Backes might have felt overwhelmed and it might have forced him to think too much and try to do too much when firing the puck. Granted this is speculation and it falls under a list of intangibles, but it's logical.
In 2013-14, some pressure should be off Backes. Last year Backes was one of the only true centers on the roster. If the Blues had more depth down the middle they might have shifted Backes to a new line instead of using him near the top out of necessity. With the additions of several centers, the Blues can now shift Backes around the ice should they desire. They could even push him over to the wing if they feel it will improve his numbers.
Bad seasons happen. Slumps happen. Backes' slump looks to be an isolated incident fueled by a lack of proper training, a slow start, pressure and the captain's desire to do a bit too much. Heading into a normal 2013-14, Backes should right the ship. Barring an injury, Backes should be in the 20-goal neighborhood and should be one of the best offensive weapons on the roster.
I certainly hope that Backes regains his normal scoring form. Sure, he's not going to blaze a trail up the goal scoring charts, but we already knew that. However, if he can be one of six, or seven, or eight guys all sitting in the 20-30 range, it'll be good enough. The Blues have a whole lot of goal-scoring potential on the top three lines - it's just a matter of which will hit and which will miss, and with what frequency.
If we can count on a similar goaltending return to form, it should be yet another above average season where everyone hates to play the Blues. Is that enough to make a larger dent in the playoffs? That, to me, is pretty much the only question that matters. Management is certainly doing their part - now the boys, Backes included, have to go out and do theirs.
@miendiem The big question is, what do you honestly expect from Backes this year? In terms of goals and assists, let's hear your projection.
I'll say 20-25 goals and 35-45 assists. I know my ranges are kind of large, but that gives me more room for error. It's interesting to see how he put up so many assists (22) in just 48 games. In his last full season he only had 30. I wonder if this has something to do with his shots hitting off the goalie before being punched in by someone else, but I'm not about to take the time to go figure that out.
@David Rogers I'd like to see 25+ goals and 30+ assists from Backes this year. Not great, but back in line with his career averages, and I think he's got a shot to do it, especially if he put in the offseason work because last season's numbers stuck in his craw.
If he wants to stand out, I'd like to see him match or better his 31/31/62 G/A/P line from 2010-2011, but I think the Blues are fine if he just returns to his general past form, points-wise.
@miendiem I think you handled the learning curve extremely well. Head-to-head leagues have a larger learning curve than other leagues (in my opinion) and they force you to check it almost every day. Don't think you can fly under the radar this year, sir!
@David Rogers Had to expect it, especially as soon as Frank91 went first overall in his rookie year. Looking forward to the draft now that I have an understanding of how the scoring actually works. I went into last year's drafting for averages.
@miendiem Ha, that's so true. I fully expect ever St. Louis player to be drafted by the end of the third round. Silly, but it's fun.
@David Rogers He certainly stood up pretty well for me last fantasy season, even with the down year in goals. Not sure he was necessarily first-round material, but considering the demographic of the league we were playing in, he wouldn't have made it to the second.
@miendiem That prediction is interesting not only for the Blues, but also for the world of fantasy hockey. If he's able to score 25+ and put up 100+ penalty minutes, Backes would be one incredibly valuable asset this season.