Save for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom is the best player on the Washington Capitals – and it’s been that way for some time. Seeing him on crutches, then, after undergoing arthroscopic hip surgery in late May was an unwelcome sight for Caps fans. On Wednesday, after four months of recovery, Backstrom practiced with his teammates for the first time since the operation — albeit in a non-contact jersey. Still, the star center who didn’t miss a game last season is likely to miss this year’s opener, though the a quicker return that some feared.
“There’s no timetable,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said when asked when Backstrom might get back into game action or lose the non-contact jersey. “Whenever he’s ready, he’s ready. I consider Nick a franchise player and you never put a franchise player at risk. When he’s ready, he’ll be ready. That will be determined by our medical staff, his doctor and more importantly, Nick himself.”
Any time missed by Backstrom is a big loss for Washington, a team that has long lacked center depth. The 27-year-old Swede led the league with 60 assists last year, while also finishing sixth in points. Derek Roy, in camp on a professional tryout agreement, and Chandler Stephenson, who played last year with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, are battling for a roster spot in Backstrom’s absence.
Prior to Wednesday morning, Backstrom had been doing skating drills with Brooks Orpik, who had offseason wrist surgery, before the rest of the team took to the ice.
“He has been skating really well with controlled conditions,” Trotz said of Backstrom. “I think once you get into practice, you’ve got to avoid people a little bit, so we’ll see how he reacts to that.”
Speaking to the media after the on-ice session, Backstrom said he was happy to skate with his teammates because his conditioning drills were boring.
“It’s nice to get back with the guys and do normal drills,” Backstrom said after staying on the ice. “It’s going in the right direction, so that’s good.”
He echoed Trotz and did not offer an estimate on when he might return.
“We’ll see and take it day by day,” he added. “I just want to feel healthy.”
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