The Washington Capitals announced on Saturday afternoon that legendary center Nicklas Backstrom underwent hip resurfacing surgery. The team called the surgery a “success” and said his recovery process will be “lengthy”.
Hockey players and other athletes that have undergone the same surgery in the past have seen their returns to their respective sports careers be questionable at best.
It’s why many are openly wondering if Backstrom may have played his final game in a Capitals uniform.
The Athletic’s Craig Custance, writing for ESPN at the time, did a story in 2014 on Florida Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski getting the procedure done. This is how Jovanovski described the surgery.
“They dislocate your joint,” Jovanovski said to Custance. “Pull it out of your leg. Then shave the femoral head down to a certain size and cap it with titanium. Then do the same for your socket, shaving out the socket and hammering in a new socket where everything kind of joins together.”
Jovanovski went through a long rehabilitation process afterward — a full year — and went on to play only 37 more games in the NHL during the 2013-14 season. The sad part is that’s considered the most successful return for an NHLer after getting a resurfacing done.
Custance added in his piece that the average age of someone getting this type of surgical work is 51.
Less “successful” examples in hockey include the plight of center Ryan Kesler, who got the procedure done in 2019 and never played again. Long-time NHLer Mike Sillinger also had it done and he did so just so that he could have a pain-free retirement.
WWE Hall of Famer, The Undertaker, was the first known professional athlete of any sort to return to their work after getting the surgery in 2010. ‘Taker’ was reduced to having two professional wrestling matches per year through 2020 and a majority of those matches involved more than two wrestlers so he was not forced to carry a match by himself. The schedule of a professional hockey player and the intensity of their job would not allow for that kind of rest.
“Only thing then is I kinda had to learn how to walk again,” The Undertaker said in 2021. “I mean I could walk, but my gait was so screwed up from dragging the leg and everything.”
The one small beacon of hope in an otherwise doom and gloom world of hip replacements is former tennis world number one, Andy Murray. Murray had the procedure done by the same exact surgeon that did Jovanovski’s, Dr. Edwin Su, and was able to return to at least be competitive at major tournaments. He hasn’t reached his previous heights but the 35-year-old Scot is 16-9 in singles action in 2022 after going a combined 30-27 in 2018-2021, a period in which he had two separate hip surgeries including the resurfacing.
“There was certainly no guarantee that he was going to be able to reach the same level of tennis that he had achieved before, particularly with regards to movement, explosiveness, and endurance,” Dr. Su said of Murray. “However, the fact that he was still playing at a very high level of tennis with a problematic and painful hip gives confidence to the belief he would be able to do it with a pain-free and more mobile hip.”
Backstrom certainly wasn’t his best last season but he wasn’t “bad” per se either. That makes Dr. Su’s statement about Murray a tad reassuring for those hoping number 19 will make an eventual return to the Capitals lineup.
But for the Swedish center to do so, it will require a long and grueling rehabillitation process and, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said, “it’s a lot to come back from for a guy that’s had the miles that Backstrom’s had.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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