The Washington Capitals announced center Nicklas Backstrom would be taking a leave of absence from the team over two weeks ago.
Since then, the Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan stated that Backstrom is “unlikely” to play again this season and placed the legendary pivot on long-term injured reserve.
While MacLellan and the Capitals were initially careful with speaking in definites about the future of Backstrom’s career, that appeared to change on Tuesday. MacLellan called in to Jeff Marek’s weekly podcast show and made it pretty clear that he thinks Backstrom’s career in the NHL is over.
Backstrom, a 2006 Capitals first-round draft pick and 2018 Stanley Cup champion, has been unable to be a regular in the team’s lineup for parts of three seasons now due to lingering issues with his surgically repaired hip. The 35-year-old Swede has played in 1,105 games for the Capitals and recorded 1,033 points (271g, 762a).
“I think that the hip thing came here probably three years ago where it went to a different level and to watch him struggle and play through pain with it was hard,” MacLellan said. “The different stages of how do we address it, how does he become pain free, how can he get back to where he wants to be, was a good two and a half to three year process that you didn’t want to see end the wrong way but you wanted to see him go out the right way.
“It’s just a difficult situation all around and he made a decision here just a little bit ago that he’s going to exit and that’s the way he’s going out. I give him a lot of respect for the way that he did it.”
Backstrom left the team with this season and next remaining on the five-year extension he signed with the Capitals back in 2020. At the time, Backstrom’s contract was expected to see him finish out his career playing right next to longtime running mate Alex Ovechkin, who signed his own five-year extension the next year.
Sadly, it sounds like Backstrom’s injury is going to rob the team and fans of seeing that happen.
“You wanted them to go out kinda the right way,” MacLellan said. “Storybook ending you’d like to see Backstrom assist on Ovi breaking Gretzky’s record. That’s the idealistic one but unfortunately it’s not going to go out that way. We’ll see how it ends here in the end for Ovi. I think it’s tough for players that are elite on how they exit the game. How can they go out while still staying on top, while still maintaining the respect that you have as a player?”
Backstrom played only the back half of the 2022-23 season as he rehabbed from the major surgery. His process and possession stats were some of the worst on the team. After a full summer rehabbing and looking impressive in his first few games of the preseason, Backstrom’s numbers did not improve through eight games of the 2023-24 regular season.
His decision to step away from hockey altogether came after Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery had removed him from the first unit of the power play and bumped him down to the third-line center spot. Young centers like Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre have stepped up in his absence, perhaps the final assist of Backstrom’s career.
Backstrom has yet to speak to the media about his decision. In his statement released when the announcement went public, Backstrom asked for privacy as he sought to “determine my next steps and viable options moving forward.”
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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