John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom are two of the closest friends on the Washington Capitals. The two veterans have been teammates since Carlson joined the team for the latter half of the 2009-10 season.
Backstrom announced on Wednesday that he’ll be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team to try and deal with his ongoing hip injury issues. The legendary center personally let the team know before their practice and the news seemed to come as a bit of a shock to the locker room.
Carlson tried his best to explain that jarring atmosphere in his post-practice media availability.
“I think you can tell by the feeling, it’s a little odd,” Carlson said. “As time goes on it’s still going to be odd. It’s going to be odd tomorrow coming here. It’s different when guys get hurt and they’re in and out of the locker room. That stuff is normal. You can notice the different feeling and it’s certainly not an easy thing for any of us or him.”
Carlson, who went through his own frightening injury scare last season when a puck fractured his skull and severed his temporal artery, can empathize with all of the work that Backstrom has put in to try and get back on the ice. The blueliner missed 36 games last season on the road to recovery.
Now, Backstrom is facing a situation where he may have to start from scratch. Or, stare down the fact that the seriousness of his injury will likely mean that no amount of work can extend his NHL career.
“We’ve all had rehab,” Carlson said. “I’m not going to say that I’ve had the same thing because I haven’t but it’s a long road. It can be extremely difficult. A lot of the time is spent on your own. Those are long days and they’re a lot of work. It’s tough, it sucks, it hurts. That’s the worst part of the job and you’re away from the team. It shows his character, how much he stuck to it and gave it every single chance that he has.
“I don’t think anyone really finishes at the top of the world,” he added. “It’s extremely rare. We all respect him. We all understand what he brings to the team both on the ice and off the ice. We’re surprised by it. We’re just thinking about him honestly.”
With the prospect of Backstrom retiring now more present than ever, multiple Capitals players were asked to give their thoughts on what he means to the franchise. Carlson seemed to get a bit emotional when it was his turn to respond to that line of questioning.
“Everything,” Carlson said. Yin and yang, I think. He’s been a pillar since pretty much maybe his 15th game here. It’s incredible what he’s been able to accomplish. What he means to me and my career on the ice. The lessons that I’ve learned watching him, talking to him, picking his brain. That’s a lot of moments spent together. A lot of road trips, a lot of plane time, a lot of games, a lot of everything. That’s a long time we’ve been together. I think, especially, that’s why I’m kind of feeling it. It feels weird to me. That’s because I’ve never been here without him and it wasn’t just a walk in the park.”
All 935 games of his NHL career have come with Backstrom as his teammate. Carlson, not known to be a fighter, even once fought the New York Islanders’ Anders Lee after the latter nailed Backstrom with a blindside hit back in 2020.
Carlson was asked what he and the rest of his teammates can do now to help Backstrom through this tough time off the ice.
“Well, be a good person first and foremost,” Carlson said. “He’s meant so much to all of us at certain parts of our careers, as a friend, with my kids. Just continue to be that friend and offer whatever we can to make it easier or more fun or whatever it is.”
“I hope that he’s around all the time. I think that we can all benefit from each other in that sense. That’s what I would hope would be the case.”
Carlson wrapped up talking about how Backstrom’s competitive nature has fueled him throughout his career.
“That’s how he is,” Carlson said. “That’s his personality. That’s what has made him the player he is, the person he is. He was exhausting every opportunity on his body to get it feeling as good as he possibly could and that just shows you a guy with those types of surgeries it’s a lot to even think about. Let alone, going through it. We’re just here hoping he is in the best place he can be.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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