ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Blues want big forward David Backes around for a long time.
The six-foot-three 225-pound right-winger, who could have become an unrestricted free agent next summer, signed a five-year contract extension reported to be worth US$4.5 million per season on Friday.
“As much as you’d like to say you’re mentally strong and you can block it out, it’s something that does weigh on you,” said Backes. “I think it’s human nature that you’re thinking about it now and then.
“The Blues are making a big commitment to keep me here.”
The Minneapolis native is valued as much for his physical play as for his skill.
Backes had 31 goals and 23 assists with 165 penalty minutes in 2008-09. While he dropped to 17 goals and a career-high 31 assists last season, he was credited with 266 hits. This season, he has two goals, four assists and 32 penalty minutes in 14 games.
General manager Doug Armstrong said he tried to get a deal done with Backes before the season,
“I was very comfortable that if the deal didn’t get done, knowing David’s character and his professionalism, he was going to be able to deal with this and continue to play at a high level,” Armstrong said. “I know now moving forward, we don’t have to worry about what we’re going to do.
“He’s a Blue for the next five years and I’m hoping much past that to end his career here.”
It is the second time the Blues have backed up their commitment to Backes with money.
When he was a restricted free agent in 2007, the Blues matched an offer sheet from the Vancouver Canucks on a three-year deal worth $2.5 million per season.
Backes won a silver medal with the U.S. team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where he had one goal and two assists in six games.
The 26-year-old, who was drafted 62nd overall by the Blues in 2003, is in his fifth NHL season.
St. Louis has missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, but appear to be building a contender around younger players like Backes, T.J. Oshie, Erik Johnson, David Perron and goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
“Maybe I don’t know any better, but I know this group’s trending in the right direction,” Backes said. “With a few injuries, we’ve still been able to maintain a high level of play.
“We plan on doing that, not for just the rest of this year and into the playoffs, but for years to come.”
In 296 career games, Backes has 73 goals and 89 assists.
—With files from The Associated Press