David Backes has experienced a lot during his time in St. Louis. He has never experienced a more successful stretch of hockey.
The Blues have to win 13 of their final 33 games to become the winningest team Backes has played with since he donned the Note in 2006-07. Isn't it funny how that works?
Last summer there was angst over who should replace Eric Brewer as the Blues' captain. Many favored emerging young quarterback Alex Pietrangelo for the role. Others thought two-way standout Alex Steen might wear the "C" well. Some pointed to Barret Jackman, while still others wondered if incoming veterans Jamie Langenbrunner or Jason Arnott might be the best choice.
All are deserving of consideration, worthy of debate. For Blues management, the candidate was obvious, as definitive as his part in an invigorating first half. The 27-year-old Backes is this team's captain and it's most explicit leader since gritty Brian Sutter.
"The thing that works in captaincy is the captain carries the coach's message to the style of play on most teams," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "And you look at the good captains now, they're all 200-foot players. They're all players who carry a team attitude and that's what makes them effective.
"That's where David is very effective. He takes the team attitude, he doesn't cheat the game, plays it the right way, he's very effective for us."
If you need credit references, look at the Blues' 29-13-7 record. They were two points shy of the overall league lead as the All-Star break arrived. Without question, the first 49 games of Backes' captaincy have been captivating, and some of the most gratifying hockey of his career.
"It's been fun coming to the rink," Backes said. "We've had a lot of success at home. We still have plenty of things to figure out. That challenge ahead of us is exciting, as well. It's something we're going to relish and hopefully it will bring out the best in us."
Backes doesn't put the cause-and-effect formula in individual terms. The lunch-pail Blues have been truly a one-for-all, all-for-one production.
"It's a great group of guys," Backes said. "When it comes down to let's put the team first and let's go get a win, these guys have been willing to do it and that's why we've had so much success.
"The guys we brought in are phenomenal guys, not just as hockey players but the experience they bring and the character they bring. They've been in winning places for a long time. They want to create that same atmosphere and those same expectations here. Having that for guidance has been instrumental, not only for the team but for my growing as a captain."
The captain's place in hockey is somewhat incomparable in sports. Other team sports have captains who are largely limited to a ceremonial status. In hockey, the captaincy is both more important than people think and less important than people think.
"I've seen guys become captains and they're overwhelmed by the stress of both sides coming after them," Hitchcock said. "They develop a closet mentality, where they don't want to deal with any of it and it overwhelms them.
"And I've seen the other side also, where the captain becomes too powerful and he starts to alienate himself from the rest of his team. There has to be a balance there."
Backes has been a veritable Flying Wallenda of balance. Among his goals as a captain was to do the assignment proud while not letting it diminish his contributions as a player. So far, so good. The Minneapolis native comes into the season's second stage with 16 goals, 37 points and is a plus-16. He also is among the league's top forwards in hits (143), well on his way to another 200-hit season.
"I think the biggest factor for me is I don't think you can be a good captain in this day and age unless you have a big impact on the outcome of the game," Hitchcock said. "And David has a big impact. He plays in every situation, he plays arguably the most minutes — at least among the forwards — and he has a big impact on the outcome of the game."
In sum, Backes has caulked the dressing room, connected with the coaching staff and done so without skipping a shift.
"I've taken it as an honor to be a captain," Backes said. "It's definitely been more work to do around the rink, more decisions to be made, more meetings to be in. But I enjoy that part and I think it's something where we've made a lot of good decisions that are for the best of this team, not for the individuals or a certain group. It's created a good atmosphere and we've had a lot of success so far."
Remember, Backes is not a Hitchcock appointment. The white-haired mentor replaced Davis Payne in early November. One of the first conversations Hitchcock had with general manager Doug Armstrong was about Backes, his personality, his presence in the room, his contributions on the ice.
Hitchcock has had strong leaders on other teams he coached: Derian Hatcher in Dallas, Keith Primeau in Philadelphia. He considers the bond between coach and captain integral to a healthy give-and-take relationship with his team. He has found Backes to be a conscientious conduit.
"I think what's made him really good is the fact that he listens," Hitchcock said. "When he doesn't have all the answers, he goes out and seeks them. He'll come in and ask me about handling a certain situation, he'll ask Jamie (Langenbrunner), he'll ask Jason (Arnott), he'll ask Scott Nichol.
"He doesn't go after anything half-cocked. He gets the information, takes it in and makes good decisions. I think that's what good captains do."
That communicative impact was demonstrated Wednesday. The Blues stayed off the ice and the coaching staff instead scheduled extra-curricular work. Backes communicated with his teammates, then with Hitchcock to implement an alternative plan. The schedule was changed.
"We figured out something different that worked better for the players, that they wanted, so we made that decision," Hitchcock said. "David brought the information from the players, we brought it from the coaches and we collectively worked out something that was good for the team. He took in the information and made a decision on what's best for the team."
Backes has absorbed a lot since joining the Blues. One thing he hasn't experienced though is a winning playoff game. The Blues have qualified for the postseason once during his tenure (2008-09) and were eliminated in four straight losses to the Vancouver Canucks.
Like Sutter, Backes' game is more about substance than style. He was one of only three NHL players to have 30 or more goals and 200 or more hits last season. Like Sutter, the proof of his leadership is in the war, not the words.
Sutter was part of a Blues team that came within a Game 7 loss to Calgary of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals. Capt. Backes wants his team to go a bit farther, to boldly go where no Blues team has gone before.
"We've got to continue to improve in areas of our game," Backes said. "Other teams are going to do the same thing, but take it up a level against us. We have to not only match that but exceed that level. We have to keep the learning curve going. We can't let down, we can't let one little mistake or one bad bounce get us off our game."
One thing is certain for the Blues, their captain will lead the way.