Nicklas Backstrom was back out on the ice on Saturday as he continues preparation for his 17th season in the National Hockey League. The Washington Capitals great was not clad in his usual red, white, and blue though as he donned black for Team Masken during Brynäs IF’s annual “Black and White” game.
Backstrom, a Gavle native and former Brynäs player, was a regular participant in the game before the pandemic and his hip resurfacing surgery threw a wrench in his usual yearly plans. The 35-year-old center has a very important training camp coming up for the Caps as he looks to prove that he’s still capable of being a positive contributor in the NHL over a year removed from that surgery.
A handful of familiar names joined Backstrom out on the ice, including former Caps forward Johan Larsson, Calgary Flames duo Elias Lindholm and Jacob Markstrom, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Calle Jarnkrok, and Florida Panthers defenseman Lucas Carlsson.
Backstrom skated on the third line and was one of three players to wear number 19. Here is how both sides lined up on the day.
Seeing Backstrom already back on skates is a good sign, with Caps training camp set to get underway at MedStar Capitals Iceplex in almost exactly a month. Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said earlier in the offseason that the upcoming preseason will be pivotal for the Swedish playmaker.
“We’ve had a couple conversations about where he is health-wise,” MacLellan said in early June. “I think he’s deserved a chance to see what he can do in the offseason and come into camp and see where he’s at health-wise. It’s a major surgery, so I don’t know that anybody knows exactly where he’s going to be.”
MacLellan had previously suggested that Backstrom was at something of a crossroads during his Breakdown Day interview in mid-April.
“I think it’s frustrating in that I don’t know how much better it’s going to get,” MacLellan said then. “I haven’t seen any other players do it, recover, and get back to the level they thought they were at before. I don’t know where that ends up with the offseason training. He’s going to have to make a decision on his career where he thinks he’s at.”
MacLellan added, “I don’t know what could happen in the offseason to make it significantly better.”
The GM’s worries are valid, as hip resurfacing surgery is a grueling procedure without much history of prolonged past success for professional athletes. Backstrom went through a strenuous rehab process and although he came out on the other end pain free and feeling better, did not return to his usual form on the ice.
In his age-36 season, he tallied just 21 points (7g, 14a) in 39 games. Six of those seven goals and 11 of his 21 points came on the power play, where his lingering skating issues were less impactful. At five-on-five, the Capitals were outscored 27-14, out-attempted (476 to 429), and out-chanced (247-200) when Backstrom was on the ice. Backstrom finished the year with a career-low 34.2 goals-for percentage and a career-worst plus-minus of minus-25.
To his credit, Backstrom was positive about his future in his own end-of-year comments.
“It’s not ideal to come in mid-season and a big surgery like that,” he said in April. “You missed a lot and you’re trying to catch up. It’s not ideal. I mean I’m optimistic about next year and like, have a good summer, the first really good summer in a couple of years, and be ready at the training camp and be a part of that. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Getting back into shape in a somewhat competitive setting on Saturday seems to be one of the steps in having that good, full summer. Backstrom is signed with the Caps for the next two seasons at a $9.2 million cap hit. The team did not make any major changes to its center group this offseason so Backstrom is still slotted for a regular role in the lineup under new head coach Spencer Carbery.
Headline photo: @brynas__if/Instagram
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