The St. Louis Blues may have a new captain come the 2016-17 season.
Speaking with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford Saturday, Blues GM Doug Armstrong said that captain David Backes, as well as St. Louis’ four other unrestricted free agents, is expected to hit the open market come July 1. The Blues are trying to get a contract in place for Backes, but Armstrong wants to find a fit for both sides.
"We'd like to have David back and hopefully as we push in we can get it done,” Armstrong told Rutherford. “But it has to work for both sides not just one…We’re willing to invest a little bit of 'thank you' money but it has to make sense.”
Backes has been the Blues captain for the past five seasons, but the 32-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career this off-season after completing the final year of a five-year, $22.5-million deal. Previously, Backes had signed a three-year, $7.5 million offer sheet with the Vancouver Canucks ahead of the 2008-09 season, but the Blues matched the contract to keep the pivot in St. Louis.
On the open market, Backes could earn as much as $6 million per season if there’s a bidding war for his services. Regardless, he’s due for a raise on the $4.5 million annual salary he earned over the past five seasons, whether in St. Louis or elsewhere. The Blues are entering the off-season with roughly $11.1 million in cap space, though the salary cap could increase ahead of free agency.
Backes registered 21 goals and 45 points this past season, but he was a force to be reckoned with in the post-season. In 20 games, Backes notched seven goals and 14 points while averaging nearly 19 minutes of ice time per game. Over the past three seasons, Backes has scored 74 goals and 160 points in 233 games and has 206 goals and 460 points over his 727 games as a Blue. It’s not his scoring ability that will make him a free agent target, though.
Backes’ two-way ability — he has finished top-five in Selke Trophy voting in each of the past four seasons — will make him a valuable asset in free agency. Backes isn't just a solid two-way center at 5-on-5, but a heavily relied on penalty killer. He logged 1:30-plus per game in the post-season when St. Louis was down a man and has been incredibly effective penalty killer over the past three seasons. Of all players who have skated as much as 400 minutes on the penalty kill since the start of the 2013-14 season, Backes ranks 17th in shot suppression with a mere 98.3 shot attempts against per 60 minutes of penalty kill time, per Puckalytics.
If Backes does leave St. Louis, it would be the departure of one of the Blues most beloved players and signal the start of a new era for the franchise. But if he stays around, Backes will continue to be the heart and soul of the only franchise he has known in his career.