We kick off the review series with the biggest question of the offseason: what’s the future for Nicklas Backstrom?
|17.5||time on ice per game|
|47.1||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage|
|45.8||5-on-5 expected goal percentage|
|44.6||5-on-5 goal percentage|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows lots of information for the player over the season. A short description of each chart:
About this visualization: At three times during the season, RMNB shared an open survey with fans, asking the following question for each player:
On a scale from 1 to 5, how HAPPY are you to have this player on the team?
1 means VERY UNHAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
2 means UNHAPPY
3 means NEITHER HAPPY NOR UNHAPPY
4 means HAPPY
5 means VERY HAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
The numbers above show the average score for the player in each survey period.
We begin the season review series on the bummer tip. Nicklas Backstrom’s season started two months late as he rehabilitated from a hip injury. That’s the same hip he had surgery on seven years ago, the same which he rated as “so-so”, the same for which he’s now considering additional medical interventions.
Backstrom was never the most mobile player, so his recent drop-off in speed has been extra unfortunate, and it’s shown up in his statistics. Backstrom had the lowest on-ice shot attempt percentage (i.e. roughly how much the Caps had the puck) among full-time forwards at 47.1 percent. Factoring in quality with expected goals was worse at 45.8 percent, and actual goals was worse still at 44.6 percent (25 for Washington, 31 for opponents).
Backstrom himself seemed to be carrying the puck less than ever. This is just a rough proxy, but Backstrom drew just two penalties in 822 minutes, shockingly low for a player who’s supposed to be having the puck a lot, at least systems-wise. For comparison, Kuznetsov drew 23 penalties in 1602 minutes, and Eller drew 17 in 1161. For Backstrom, that’s a profound drop, suggesting he’s carrying the puck less, protecting it worse, or both.
The thing we used to say about Backstrom all the time is that he was hard to get off the puck. I’m not sure that’s true anymore. His checkers no longer have to reach to restrain him.
There remains one dimension of Backstrom’s game that I think is untouched. He is still an elite play-maker. He passes like a demon. Only Kuznetsov and Mantha had a higher rate of primary assists. But, frankly, finesse skills alone are not enough to carry a top-six line in the NHL. Even before taking into account his contract (9.2M per year until 2025), it’s hard not to think of Backstrom as a liability. I suspect he himself has the same suspicion.
“The best thing I want to do is play hockey,” Backstrom said on breakdown day. “That’s my life. Obviously, I want to be back. I want to be back to normal, not worrying about this.”
Backstrom is now considering a more significant operation to repair his hip, one that would have a more intensive and difficult rehab period. The range of outcomes here is wide: from miracle recovery to early retirement. That’s a sobering notion for a player who has been the foundation of this team for 15 years.
this. this is the one. pic.twitter.com/ByGyIIMS9s
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 27, 2022
If Nicklas Backstrom does not get surgery, what’s an appropriate role for him next season? Third line, tops? And do you think he could even pass the physical right now?
Read more: Japers Rink
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