Nicklas Backstrom is on the wrong side of thirty, but I guess no one told his hockey that, because he’s still fantastic.
|20.0||time on ice per game|
|50.7||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|49.1||5-on-5 expected goal percentage, adjusted|
|55.0||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the season. A short description of each chart:
The party line goes that scoring in the NHL drops off around a player’s age-26 season, but Backstrom just wrapped up his 4th straight 20-goal season and his sixth straight 70-point season. That streak would be even longer if not for the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, which, yes, I’m still grumpy about.
You could argue that Backstrom was Washington’s best forward in 2018-19. On top of his consistent scoring output, he had a positive impact on his linemates, drawing their on-ice percentages up whenever they were lucky enough to take a shift with Backstrom. HockeyViz’s with-or-without-you graph tells that story whenever the black box is to the top right of its corresponding red box, which is almost always.
(Wow, Orpik. We’ll get to him in a couple weeks.)
Backstrom’s play was distinct this season because he was one of the few top-six players to not have major deficits in on-ice shot quality. He was still slightly under 50 percent in high-danger chances and expected goals, but to a far lesser degree than players like Kuznetsov and Ovechkin, with whom Backstrom played only about half his season. The impact there was apparent.
While Ovechkin brings a certain recklessness (or, more charitably, a certain fun-ness) to his play, playing with Backstrom had kept his play respectably close to even — outside of goals, which are always bonkers for Ovechkin lately. This shouldn’t be a big surprise. Backstrom’s transition play and play without the puck is dramatically better than his nominal competition for 1C, Evgeny Kuznetsov. And that reliability didn’t seem to come at the cost of offensive creativity, which we saw plenty of in a too-short postseason. Those Backstrom rush goals were a compelling reminder that this player is never not dangerous, even as he gets older. Actually, it kind of looks like he’s getting better with age.
Even as the Caps overall retreated from dominating play at five-on-five a few years ago, Backstrom’s individual participation in the team’s offense has increased despite the aging curve‘s portent. That expected drop-off is something Washington is probably watching closely, as they’ve got an important decision to make pretty soon. Backstrom’s $6.7-million contract expires next summer, putting the future hall-of-famer and the team’s best all-around forward on the market at age 32 and a half unless the Caps extend him first. That is a fearsome proposition — do you overpay a legendary and still excellent player for his waning years, or do you risk playing against him in another jersey and getting lit up to hell for your arrogance?
There are folks who want to see Backstrom retire as a Capital no matter the cost, and I’m not convinced their position is entirely sentimental.
If you’re GMBM, do you extend Nicklas Backstrom? Do you do it now or next season? How long and how much?
Read more: Japers Rink
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