David Backes wasn't his best in 2012-13. The captain of the Blues made opponents pay with crushing checks and played with the heart and emotion you'd want from a leader, but he struggled offensively. He really, really struggled offensively.
Backes scored just six goals in 48 games last season. He posted a very respectable number of assists (22), but goals proved elusive. After scoring 24 in 2011-12 and 31 in 2010-11, many assumed Backes would be one of the team's leading scorers in the abbreviated campaign. Not so much.
Backes' other skills and determination out on the ice allowed fans to give him a pass for his massive decrease in scoring. Should fans be concerned about Backes heading into 2013-14, or will we see a massive rebound from the forward?
If you read the title of this article, you already know my opinion on what I think the future holds for Backes.
It's important to remember that the lockout played a major role in Backes' weak season. A notoriously slow starter, Backes didn't have his usual amount of time to prepare for the 2012-13 season. When you add in the fact Backes was one of the main representatives for the players during the lockout, it's safe to assume Backes' mind was more focused on legal matters than it was on training and working on his shot. Backes should benefit from a full training camp and from a summer void of lockout drama.
Backes' low goal total wasn't for a lack of chances. Like many other players on the roster, Backes would pull out the ol' Brad Boyes strategy and fire the puck high and wide when presented with a golden opportunity. This statement is difficult to prove unless you watched Backes on a nightly basis, but his shooting percentage from last season (6%) helps paint part of the picture.
Prior to 2012-13, Backes' shooting percentage over his first six seasons in the NHL was just over 12.18%. He scored 126 goals on 1,034 shots. Thanks to last season's struggles, his career shooting percentage dropped to 11.6%. Even with the dip, Backes' career average in the shooting percentage department illustrates just how badly he shot in 2012-13. Was last year a fluke? It would appear that way if you look at his previous six years in the NHL.
It's worth noting that Backes ended the 2012-13 regular season on a decent note. January, February and March were dreadful, but April saw Backes improve and look more like the power forward fans are used to watching. Check out his progression through last season.
January: 1 goal, 4 assists (5 points), 7.7% shooting in 7 games.
February: 1 goal, 6 assists (7 points), 5.0% shooting in 12 games.
March: 1 goal, 6 assists (7 points), 2.6% shooting in 14 games.
April: 3 goals, 6 assists (9 points), 10.7% shooting in 15 games.
Though I mentioned that Backes was subscribing to the Brad Boyes shoot it wide theory, the bulk of his shots did find the net. He missed completely with 32 shots, a number which is the second highest for a St. Louis forward behind Alexander Steen, but 79 shots were on frame. In my opinion, this indicates that Backes was just a touch off during the year. His shots were on target, but they weren't finding any corners or open space.
Was pressure an issue? At times it appeared Backes was trying to do too much. That's not to say you should blame him as he was trying to get his team going as they suffered through some miserable offensive droughts. Add in injuries to key weapons and slumps from others, Backes might have felt overwhelmed and it might have forced him to think too much and try to do too much when firing the puck. Granted this is speculation and it falls under a list of intangibles, but it's logical.
In 2013-14, some pressure should be off Backes. Last year Backes was one of the only true centers on the roster. If the Blues had more depth down the middle they might have shifted Backes to a new line instead of using him near the top out of necessity. With the additions of several centers, the Blues can now shift Backes around the ice should they desire. They could even push him over to the wing if they feel it will improve his numbers.
Bad seasons happen. Slumps happen. Backes' slump looks to be an isolated incident fueled by a lack of proper training, a slow start, pressure and the captain's desire to do a bit too much. Heading into a normal 2013-14, Backes should right the ship. Barring an injury, Backes should be in the 20-goal neighborhood and should be one of the best offensive weapons on the roster.