The Captaincy is a difficult position. Inherently, it is a multiplier of a player’s pressure; he is automatically scrutinized far more than his colleagues due to a simple letter on his chest. Some thrive under this pressure: Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Mark Messier, to name a few. Others do not: relevant to the Blues, the most obvious example is one Eric Brewer. Who knows if Brewer would have been as frequently and severely admonished (scapegoated?) by Blues fans and media had he not been tasked with the title. Most agree that Brewer wasn’t a spectacular player, but few would call him abysmal without being overly critical.
David Backes seems to understand this pressure. His reaction to it, however, has varied. For the majority of his career since he was appointed, he has looked like the ideal leader for a hockey club, not only in statistics but in effort, fighting relatively often (including against the Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews, which garners extra points). He has led his team in scoring two years in a row. Some have even viewed his influence in such a positive light as to label him “Captain America”. At other times, however, he has looked sluggish, failing to score and taking too many penalties. Presently, his form resembles the latter.
This year has seen the worst of Backes’ tenure. The twenty-eight-year-old, who has earned an unfortunate reputation as a slow starter (which is, at least, better than a slow finisher), has started even more slowly than usual this season. In twenty-one games he has registered a mere three goals, one of which was scored on an empty net. He has an acceptable amount of assists (twelve), but this has hardly been indicative of his overall play thus far. This does not mean he hasn’t shown flashes of his potential- he worked beautifully in setting up David Perron‘s February 23rd winner against Columbus. Despite these flashes, his overall form has been far below his standard. His movement in the offensive zone has been unsuccessful in general, and his decision-making has been poor.
An important aspect of the captaincy is locker-room leadership, and for the most part, his efficacy in this regard remains unquestioned. The fans do not know how effectively a captain motivates his teammates in the locker room (an aspect of Brewer’s captaincy that was largely ignored by supporters). One disappointing move by Backes, however, was to “call out” his teammates. To chastise his fellow players is sometimes a prudent decision by a captain, however he must either be proving himself exempt from such criticism by his play, or shoulder some of the blame himself if he is not playing satisfactorily. Unfortunately, Backes did neither when he suggested that there were too many players “looking at the stat sheet wondering how many goals and assists, cookies they’ve got rather than taking a hit to make a play and getting run over so we can get a puck out so that your teammates can have a three-on-two.” While his suggestions may have been correct, taking into account his play, he was in no position to chastise others without including himself.
Of course, a major part of a captain’s success is the team around him (this may have helped the causes of the aforementioned Yzerman, Messier, and Sakic, and undermined the efforts of the unfortunate Brewer). It is certainly true that Backes’ fellow Blues have underperformed significantly as well. Thus, to direct too much of the blame on Backes would be unfair. However, he does have that “C”, and for a reason: he has been chosen to shoulder a larger proportion of the team’s responsibility. This is the role of a leader. David Backes has shown that he has what it takes to be a fantastic one. Along with several other necessities, it is crucial that Backes be the captain that he is so capable of being, both on and off the ice.