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One of the biggest boxes on Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan‘s to-do list this offseason is to re-sign center Nicklas Backstrom to a contract extension. The 31-year old can sign an extension at any time after 12 PM ET on July 1. If he does not sign an extension, he can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2020. While goaltender Braden Holtby is also up to sign a contract extension and the team would love to keep him, MacLellan and the Capitals will likely want to lock Backstrom up first. The Capitals have their future in the net with the AHL’s Hershey Bears in Ilya Samsonov, who posted a save percentage no lower than .925 in each of his final three seasons in the KHL. While his play declined in Hershey, he had to make an adjustment from playing in the European rink to the North American rink and got better as the year went on. He finished the 2018-19 season with a save percentage of .898 and a goals-against average of 2.70 in 37 games. Because Samsonov will be ready in 1-2 seasons, the Capitals could choose to move on from Holtby if his price is too steep.
While the Capitals have an in-house replacement for Holtby, they do not have a No. 1 NHL center in their prospect pipeline that can take over for Backstrom in the next few seasons. The Capitals were searching for a reliable No. 2 center for years before Evgeny Kuznetsov arrived late in the 2013-14 season. They traded for Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars at the 2012 NHL Draft and signed Mikhail Grabovski as an unrestricted free agent the next offseason. While each of them were productive with the Capitals, both left the team after just one year. They finally found a strong 1-2 punch up the middle in Backstrom and Kuznetsov and now have one of the deepest center depth in the entire league. Since the top-six center position is so vital in today’s NHL and the Capitals don’t have anyone to fill that role after 2019-20, Backstrom’s cost could go up when contract negotiations with the Capitals start.
Backstrom has been one of the most consistent players on the Capitals for a long time and gets trusted to play against other team’s top-lines. He has hit the 70-point plateau seven times in his career and the 50-assist mark five. In two of the years that he didn’t, he averaged at least a point per game. Backstrom was one of, if not, the most productive Capital in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as he led the team with five goals and came one point within captain Alex Ovechkin for the team lead.
After being on a team-friendly 10-year, $67 million contract ($6.7 million AAV), Backstrom will likely demand a big raise. Though he could take a hometown discount to play for the team that drafted him fourth overall in 2006, he will still cost the Capitals a lot of money to keep.
Because he placed second on the team in scoring ahead of Kuznetsov, whose cap hit is $7.8 million, and Carlson, who gets an $8 million paycheck annually, Backstrom will likely demand to have a cap hit around $8.5-9 million for the four to five seasons. That could go up a little bit higher because of the Capitals’ lack of center depth in their prospect group and the fact that he carried the team with Ovechkin during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While Backstrom told the media that he wants to remain in Washington at breakdown day in April, that does not mean that keeping him will come cheap for the Capitals. Locking Backstrom up as soon as possible is a must do for MacLellan and the team because the Capitals do not have an internal replacement for him and he has been one of the most productive players throughout his tenure here, both offensively and defensively. While the cost to keep Backstrom will be steep, he will certainly be worth it to the Capitals organization.
By Harrison Brown