Former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes said he got goosebumps thinking about joining a team that already includes centers like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
"These guys get it," the free agent forward said Friday after signing with the Boston Bruins in the first 30 minutes of NHL free agency. "They know what it’s going to take to win. That’s what sold me on it. … If you have prominent players that are putting team first, the rest of the guys really have no choice."
A two-time U.S. Olympian, Backes agreed to a five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins and said he hoped to help the Original Six club return to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Listing off some of the players already on the roster, Backes said it was more of a "retooling" than a rebuilding.
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"Some guys would have looked at it like, `You’ve already got Bergeron and Krejci, where will I play? David said, `Boy, I get to play with Bergeron and Krejci,’" Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said. "These guys are going to be the leading core to get us where we want to go. The younger guys are going to have to get on board."
Backes, 32, is the first major addition this offseason for a team that won the 2011 Stanley Cup and returned to the finals two years later. The team re-signed defenseman Torey Krug and bought out the contract of defenseman Dennis Seidenberg on Thursday. Free agents Loui Eriksson and Lee Stempniak agreed to deals with the Canucks and Carolina, respectively.
"I always thought Vancouver was a great city to play in and a great organization," Eriksson said.
Also signing with Boston on the first day of free agency were defensemen Tommy Cross and John-Michael Liles, goalie Anton Khudobin, and forwards Riley Nash, Tyler Randell and Tim Schaller.
"They’re trying to get pieces back that will get them over the hump," Backes said. "They barely missed the playoffs last year, and if they had (made it) I don’t think anyone would have wanted to play them."
Backes had 21 goals and 24 assists last season for the Blues. In a 10-year NHL career — all with St. Louis — he has 206 goals and 254 assists in 727 regular-season games.
Backes, who’s from Minneapolis, said it was difficult for his family to leave St. Louis, the team that selected him in the second round of the 2003 draft.
"It was tough in that it’s all I’ve known," he said in a conference call with reporters. "It happens a lot in this business, it hasn’t happened to us. But change is good."
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said talks with his captain broke down over the length of the deal.
"I had no problem bringing David Backes back, and I wish we could have," he said. "I wasn’t comfortable with the term. It was problematic for me, personally, to (sign) out that far with players. There’s analytical data (that) shows where players play at their peak, and we wanted to try and stay within a window. We were ready to stretch that window but only to a certain level."
But Backes said he’s got a lot left.
"I’m 32, not 52," he said. "I think there’s plenty of legs and energy left in me. I expect to still be at the top of my game."