Free Agent Defensemen & the Devils: Christian Backman

From here on, we're getting into the names you may not immediately think of when you think of good free agent targets for the Devils.  Yesterday, I'd like Oduya to stay for a myriad of reasons, and if he does, the Devils should look to upgrade that second pairing.   Today, we take a look at Christian Backman of Columbus.  Let's see if he would be a good signing given what is out there.


Christian Backman

#5 / Defenseman / Columbus Blue Jackets

6-4

210

Apr 28, 1980



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Christian Backman 56 2 5 7 5 32 1 0 1 0 54 3.7

Backman rose in prominence with the St. Louis Blues earlier this decade. The big Swedish defensmen didn't put up a lot of points, but showed quite a bit of poise in his own end.  It also helps that he doesn't take too many penalties, which is always a plus for defensive defensemen. He was able to parlay this into a pretty substantial contract, as seen by his current salary. However, there's a lot of red flags here. Ultimately, it leads me to believe that the Devils shouldn't sign Backman

First and foremost is the number of games he has played in  He has not played a full NHL season so far in his career.   He's had a number of injuries in the past, but that he only saw 56 games with Columbus this past season with only two injuries at the beginning of the year that only cost him 1 game is troubling.  Did he have problems with coach Ken Hitchcock?  Was Backman just not playing well enough?  I'm not really sure but I would think one of the two must have taken place.   If Backman was so good in his own end, you'd think that would justify more games and minutes.

Second, I feel his own effectiveness is a question mark when you look at the even strength numbers at Behind the Net for this past season on Columbus.    The goals against per 60 minute average from when Backman is on the ice and if off the ice is certainly different.  When Backman is on the bench (or not playing), it stands at 2.11 which is quite good. When Backman is out there, it drops to an astounding 1.69.  You see a similar effect in shots against per 60 minutes: without Backman, the Blue Jackets allow 24.9 shots per 60 minutes.  With Backman on the ice, it's only 21.8. 

The problem with all of this is that these numbers also highlight that Backman's quality of competition is quite low at -0.07;  the second lowest among Blue Jacket defenders who played at least 50 games (the lowest was third pairing d-man Kris Russell).  His performances aren't happening against the other team's top players. In fact, it's not happening for much of the game. Backman averaged only 15:39 minutes a game this past season - and with very little time on the penalty kill.  I know he's had seasons in St. Louis where he averaged at least 20 a night. But Columbus' defense certainly didn't suffer too greatly from a lack of Backman, despite the Behind the Net stats!

You could certainly argue that he definitely didn't fit in Columbus and perhaps needs a change of scenery.  Fair enough.  He's got the skills to play on a second pairing and eat up a good amount of minutes; he did do it in St. Louis.   Like I said earlier, there had to be something else going on unless Backman was really quite awful this season.   In any case, should the Devils take a chance and hope they can provide the right place for him and set his game right at age 29?  I doubt that they should, really.

Third, there's the matter of his role.   If you check out his career numbers, it's apparent the man is not a point machine.   Despite his size, he is not a hitter, even in the (relatively) halcyon days of his career back in St. Louis, he didn't throw too many of those. He is not a man who possesses a big shot.  He is at his best in his own end, a stay-at-home defenseman.  He's not bad at it but he does nothing for the Devils' offensive production from the blueline.  Backman does not address that need.   Moreover, for those who feel the need is for a defensive defenseman anyway, the Devils already have Colin White (who is much better at it than you think) and Bryce Salvador who are also defensive defensemen.  Do the Devils really need another player like that?  Especially when Mike Mottau (or another unrestricted free agent for that matter) can do a good bit of what Backman does for much cheaper?

That leads me to the fourth red flag. He made $3.4 million last season.  This is not a joke. This is not a trolling attempt.   When I do this, I look at the NHLNumbers' list of UFA defensemen first so I knew about his salary.  But when I dived into what Backman has done in his career, I'm just astounded at how much he got last season!   I can see him getting $2-2.5 million perhaps; but just under $450,000 less than Paul Martin? No wonder Andy Newman (or any of the comments) at The Cannon doesn't come close to stating that he wants him back!  While it may seem clear that he didn't really live up to that salary last season, I can't imagine him or his agents being willing to take a whole lot less.  I don't think Backman or his people will accept a low offer like $2 million/year.  Especially in a market where a guy like him could be given a very sweet deal as one of the "what's left" players after Jay Bouwmeester. Given what I've thought so far, I doubt the Devils would be wise to spend that money on Backman.

Honestly, I do think there are teams that would benefit from Backman being on their team.  I'm sure some teams will give him more than 15-16 minutes a night and use his poise and positioning skills in his own zone on the penalty kill.   There are teams that could use a defensive defenseman like Backman.  The Blue Jackets are not a team that will likely benefit from Christian Backman on their defense.  I think he's on the outs given what happened this season.  Unless Lou sees something in Backman that I'm not seeing, I just don't think the Devils are one of those teams either.  

Either way, have your say on the possibility of Christian Backman.  Maybe you'd like to, er, back Backman and point out something I may have missed - something that could convince me that he'd be a good signing.   Perhaps I got something wrong and you'd like to correct it? Maybe the Blue Jackets want to keep Backman around?   Perhaps you would like to wonder who else could be a defensive defenseman like Backman for much cheaper?  Or just comment on how ridiculous was the fact that he was paid so much to do so little last season. either way, feel free to share your thoughts.

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