Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke to the media Wednesday morning as the team prepares for the 2022 NHL Draft. One of the major topics of conversation was the recovery status of center Nicklas Backstrom and how the team plans to handle his long-term absence.
MacLellan said that the team is planning on Backstrom to return at some point during the 2022-23 season and that the current plan is to fill his gap with internal options.
“The timeline is uncertain,” MacLellan said. “I think everybody’s happy – the trainers, the doctors – with the results of the surgery. I think it’s Nick’s intention to come back and play at some point this year. The timeline of that will be uncertain and to be determined as his recovery comes and we’ll monitor that as we go forward and make a decision down the line during the season.”
Backstrom underwent left hip resurfacing surgery on June 17 and it’s a procedure that few professional athletes have had success returning from in the past. The team said in June that they expected Backstrom’s “rehabilitation and recovery process” to be “lengthy”.
“It’s hard to tell with that surgery,” MacLellan said. “It’s a hard surgery and until we see him halfway into his recovery with mobility and the strength he’s gotten back from it, it’s tough to project for anybody how he reacts and how he comes out of the surgery. We’re going to wait and see where he’s at, how he’s feeling, and how he’s progressing.”
Given the severity of the situation, many NHL analysts anticipated the Capitals to be active this offseason and aggressively use Backstrom’s salary cap space to find a talented replacement as the Super Swede will be on long-term injured reserve for most or all of the regular season. The Capitals were rumored to have interest in Nazem Kadri and JT Miller, but MacLellan threw cold water on those rumors.
“The salary cap is the salary cap,” MacLellan said. “We have to plan for Nick coming back at some point. What we can do is give opportunities to our young guys. We’ve got some young guys — McMichael, we hope he gets to the next step; Lapierre, we’ll see where he’s at; Protas is coming in and we expect him to take the next jump — and kinda go from there. It’s not like we can sign a $9.5 million player. We’re anticipating Nick comes back at some point. Until that goes away, we plan on him coming back.”
With the NHL Draft beginning in Montreal on Thursday, MacLellan also fielded questions about the team’s plans with the 20th overall selection and any wheeling and dealing that may occur on the draft floor.
“We’re open to anything,” MacLellan said. “There’s been a couple discussions about moving it. I think it would make sense if we got something that would really improve our team. Other than that, I’d say we’re more likely to make that pick. Ross and our staff like the range that we’re in to get a player they really like.”
When the NHL Draft concludes the next big date for the league is July 13 when free agency will open. The Caps have eight unrestricted free agents that have been in and around the NHL team in recent years.
“We’ve had preliminary conversations with representatives about where we’re at,” MacLellan said of where they stand with those players. “Our focus here is on the draft and doing the Draft and then we’ll shift to them and see what fits after we make some decisions on draft stuff.”
In May, MacLellan sounded off to the media about needing to change things up after four straight first-round eliminations. His stance softened a bit a week ahead of free agency.
“I think we’re open to it (but) I don’t think it’s a must do,” MacLellan said. “If we found something that made sense in that general area, if we could shake it up or we can make some changes, I think we’re open to it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to. It would have to be a good opportunity for us. I think we have a lot of good players and young guys that are developing. It’s not like I think we have to shake it up. But we’re still open to it. If we can change the dynamics of the team and make it better, we’d do it.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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