BOSTON – Call it a case of rather unfortuitous timing. David Backes signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins on July 1, 2016, the same night he was attending a wedding rehearsal for his teammate and close friend, Alex Pietrangelo. There were a number of times he had to duck out with his cell phone during the final negotiations. And the next day as he stood beside Pietrangelo as his groomsman, Backes said goodbye as a teammate and passed the leadership torch on to Pietrangelo. You’d have thought Pietrangelo might have been more sensitive with the timing of his nuptials.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Pietrangelo said. “We all know how that goes.”
There’s nobody in this final who is more conflicted than Backes, now of the Bruins. He’s thrilled for his former teammates, but he wishes he didn’t have to play against them with the Stanley Cup on the line. He’s an emotional guy who doesn’t compartmentalize these things very easily. He spent 10 years in St. Louis, the last five of them the captain and face of the franchise. He’s not a big one for regrets, but he does have one major one when it comes to his time in St. Louis.
“Part of me that’s regretful is that we didn’t get to a final or win a Cup while I was there,” Backes said on the eve of the Cup final. “I said that in my interviews leaving there on July 1 (and) when I was at (Pietrangelo’s) wedding. It’s a huge regret that I’ll always have that we weren’t able to get the job done. But the truth is that there’s been 52 years’ worth of guys that probably have that same regret.”
The funny thing is that if Backes had re-signed with the Blues four summers ago, he would still be part of this team. When he became an unrestricted free agent, the Blues opened talks with an offer of a four-year deal at $5 million per season. They increased the offer to $6 million, but were adamant that it had to be on a four-year deal. The Bruins matched the money and offered the fifth year and Backes took it. Can’t blame him for that.
But you don’t just leave a place where you spent 10 years and not be wistful about it. Particularly when you impact the city the way Backes and his wife, Kelly, did. To be sure, there are literally hundreds of dogs that owe their lives to Backes, who established himself as a prominent animal rescue advocate in St. Louis. Missouri just happens to hold the ignominious distinction of being the puppy mill capital of the world. So Backes was really, really busy. At one time he and his wife had four dogs and two cats, all rescue animals, which actually violated a local by-law that allowed only three dogs per household. One time, he and his wife fostered a pregnant Boxer, then assisted a veterinarian to deliver her 12 puppies by C-section by pulling puppies out of amniotic sacs, removing fluid from their mouths and clearing their airways.
“I feel I made a little bit of an impression on the city and the city was something that made a huge impression on us,” Backes said. “I’m not going to lie, my first time back in St. Louis, I think I was numb with emotions seeing security guards I had all year, or seeing people in town…all those people were so great that I thought, ‘Man, this is a place that’s really touched me in my life.’ My wife and I grew up there. We had our first daughter there. From 22 to 32, there’s a lot of growth as a human.”
He and Pietrangelo remain very close friends. Pietrangelo understood that Backes had to make a business decision and he supported it. It’s no coincidence that Pietrangelo took over the captaincy when Backes left. Since then, both players have grown. Pietrangelo and his wife, Jayne, had two miscarriages prior to having triplets in October.
“When they had issues with pregnancies before that, my wife was supporting Jayne in tons of different ways,” Backes said. “And now all of a sudden they have three kids at once. I don’t know if you wish that on anyone, but after the issues they had getting pregnant and staying pregnant, now they’ve got a big blessing all at once and three amazing kids who have a great mom and dad to raise them.”
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