Nicklas Backstrom is nearing a return after missing the last three months of action due to a hip injury. The Capitals originally announced Backstrom to be out week-to-week during training camp.
In what appeared to be the start of a coordinated media push, ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported during the Capitals-Penguins game that the team expects Backstrom to return sometime before the NHL’s holiday break which begins on December 24. The Capitals play six games between now and then including games against Buffalo (12/11, away), Chicago (12/15, away), Winnipeg (12/17, away), Los Angeles (12/19, home), Philadelphia (12/21, home), and the New York Islanders (12/23, home).
The news was later confirmed by The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir who added that Backstrom has begun to ramp up his activity.
Backstrom reflected on his absence exclusively with Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga in a story published on Saturday.
“Obviously, it sucks,” Backstrom said of sitting out per a @PostSports tweet.
“It’s been a roller-coaster, up and down, emotional,” added Backstrom. “It’s not easy to sit out.”
Backstrom has been on long-term injured reserve for the entire season. The Swedish center recently began participating unfettered in practices on December 3. During his rehab, he skated with Wendy Marco of Cold Rush Hockey.
As JJ Regan of NBC Sports Washington laid out in an article, Backstrom’s return is both good and bad. The Capitals will have to find a way to squeeze his $9.2 million cap hit back under the cap ceiling once he returns. One route they could go down to accomodating that is by placing Anthony Mantha and his $5.7 million cap hit on LTIR.
The Capitals, as a team, have managed well in Backstrom’s absence. The team sits second in the Metropolitan Division with a 16-5-6 record but has lost three out of their last five while trying to navigate a COVID-19 outbreak that has seen Lars Eller, Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway, and Trevor van Riemsdyk all land in protocol.
The Capitals’ power play has not been so great without Backstrom connecting only 17.1 percent this season – good for 22nd best in the NHL.
“A lot of guys have stepped in and done really well,” Lars Eller said per El-Bashir. “We’ve done well as a team, and a lot of guys have gotten opportunities maybe they wouldn’t otherwise have. But Nick’s just going to make us a better team, it’s that simple.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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