Nicklas Backstrom was one of the first Capitals players to hop back onto the ice for the team’s informal skates before training camp officially opens up the preseason. The veteran Swede is set for his first regular start to a campaign since the 2019-20 season.
His last two seasons have been hampered by hip-related injury issues, with the pandemic-shortened season before those delayed until January 2021. Backstrom spoke with Elliot Segal of Elliot in the Morning on Thursday morning about how excited he is to finally have a clean slate again.
Backstrom expressed his annoyance at constantly being asked about the recovery process from the hip resurfacing surgery he underwent in June of 2022.
“[My hip is] good,” Backstrom said flatly. “I’m kinda tired of that question. I’m just going to say that I had a normal summer, like back in the day.”
A normal summer will hopefully mean a more productive and more effective Backstrom after the playmaking center had the poorest season of his 16-year NHL career.
In Backstrom’s 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.
The Gavle native put some of those shortcomings down to jumping into the Capitals’ lineup with the schedule already in full swing.
“Coming back midseason is tougher than you think to do,” Backstrom said. “You’re trying to play catchup with yourself. It’s tougher than you think, so, I’m really excited to be there from the start and be part of training camp.”
Hearing Backstrom be so positive is a great sign after Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said earlier in the offseason that the upcoming preseason will be very pivotal for Backstrom.
“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.”
Since then, Backstrom has skated in Brynas’s annual “Black and White” game and already started skating in DC.
Capitals’ training camp begins on September 20.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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