The scent wafts over to David Backes during team dinners, and his mouth waters. He remembers the taste of filet mignon keenly, the tang of the iron, the chew of the meat, the satisfaction from a well-cooked steak. But these days, it doesn't go any further. Instead the Boston Bruins forward tucks into his own meal at these dinners, something plant-based, or more likely a piece of wild-caught salmon.
This is his NHL career on the line, after all. Eating this way could be the difference between playing out the rest of his hefty contract — it runs three more seasons, including this one, at an average annual value of $6 million — as a contributor or as a spare part. Backes hopes it is the former and, to get there, he is willing to forgo the foods that were once his lifeblood.
"I'm salivating," Backes said. "But I know it's better for me to stick with the omega-3s in the piece of salmon than it is to bury a 16-ounce steak."
Backes was on a mission last offseason, to get leaner, to bring his 222-pound frame more in line with where it should be in the current NHL. He shed 10 pounds in an effort to reclaim the game that enticed the Bruins to sign him to that five-year, $30 million contract July 1, 2016, after 10 seasons with the St. Louis Blues.
It's a story that's becoming common across the NHL, especially among veterans, especially among bigger players, as they try to hold on to what once made them an integral part of the NHL. They have watched the players around them grow smaller and lighter and faster, and they acknowledge they need to do the same — if they can.