The Frank J. Selke Trophy nominee hopes to play a role in the talks, and appears to have a very moderate stance on how the two sides can and should work things out without missing any game time.
“I feel like I have something to contribute to the players’ association," Backes said. "Not to pump my own tires but [I’m] a guy that went to college and I feel like I’ve got somewhat of a brain between my ears, a sense of reasoning, someone that hopefully can help us not miss any hockey for next year. I think fans are looking for that. That’s what ... would be best for everyone and best for the game. I think we’ll be working towards that hopefully soon.”
He acknowledged there is a sense of pessimism among fans regarding the talks, in part because basketball and football struggled to get their recent deals done in a timely fashion. He noted Major League Baseball seems to have been able to avoid the labor stoppages that have marked the other sports, including hockey.
“Baseball seems to have it all figured out for some reason," he said. "If we can find something, get on that baseball program that they seem to have something that they tweak it here and there, but it works for everyone, and, in the end, they keep growing their game. We’ve grown our game amazingly since I’ve been part of the league, for six years; to stall that for either side’s trying to grab too much of the pie I think would be foolish.”
Backes is part of a strong Blues contingent at the NHL awards. Netminders Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak will pick up the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals during the regular season. GM Doug Armstrong is a finalist for the GM of the year, and Ken Hitchcock is a strong favorite to win the Jack Adams as coach of the year.
Both Backes and Elliott said they hope the young team can learn from its experiences this spring, when the Blues won their first playoff round since 2002, defeating San Jose in five games before being swept by eventual Cup champion Los Angeles.
”I don’t know if there’s any easy way to [lose in the playoffs]. But you watched how they went about their team game ... you knew exactly what was going on in that room, exactly what those guys were feeling and how cohesive that L.A. team was; they epitomized what a team was going to be in the playoffs and they were clicking on all cylinders," Backes said. "There’s something to be learned from the experience, and I think if we do learn and we're better off moving forward, then it’s not in vain.”
This season was quite a transformation for Elliott, who a year ago was wondering whether he was going to have an NHL job at all, let alone turn in the kind of stellar performance he did for the Blues.
A year ago, Elliott was without a contract before signing a two-way deal with the Blues and having to fight for what was supposed to be the backup job behind Halak.
“You get a little bit anxious, but I learned from the beginning of my pro career, talking to some mentors that I’ve had, worrying gets you nowhere," Elliott said. "You can stay up worrying all night but what does it bring you in the end? I think I just put it on the back burner and focused on training, and wherever I was going to be, I was going to do the best that I can.
“Going into camp obviously I knew if I had to take a two-way contract, you have to be a rock star basically every night and get yourself noticed. I tried to do that. When the day came that I signed with St. Louis, I was excited for the opportunity. Not where you wanted to be with your career, but you can’t dwell on it; you just have to move forward.”
Elliott was rewarded during the season with a two-year contract extension that will pay him an average of $1.8 million annually, although he insists the security won’t change his outlook and how he prepares.
“It’s big but I thought I played my best this year with that pressure that I put on myself to be the best and to go into camp ready for the start of the season and not limping in or not just wading into the pool; you want to dive in head first and be ready to go right off the bat, so I want to take that same mindset. It doesn’t matter your security; you want to get out there, you have to earn your next contract, and you want to be in the league and playing for the Cup every year,” he said.