Capitals React To Nicklas Bäckström’s Decision To Step Away From The Game

Washington Capitals were notified with the unfortunate news on Monday that forward Nicklas Backstrom will be stepping away from the game due to his health. 

 “Given my ongoing injury situation, I decided to take some time and step away from the game. This is a difficult decision, but one that I feel is right for my health at this time. I want to thank my teammates, the organization, and fans for their unwavering support throughout this process. I ask for privacy at this time as I determine my next steps and viable options moving forward,” Backstrom said in a statement released by the team.

Backstrom, the Capitals’ all-time assist leader, underwent hip resurfacing surgery back in June 2022 and missed the first 42 games of last season. He eventually made his triumphant return in January 2023 and racked up 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 39 games.

The Swedish center had a full summer of normal training and said that he was optimistic about the upcoming season after training camp. 

The 35-year-old told Caps head coach Spencer Carbery and general manager Brian MacLellan the news that he would be stepping away on Monday. He addressed the team on Wednesday. 

RELATED: Washington Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom Says He Will Step Away From Hockey Due To Health Reasons

 “You just felt all the emotion from all his teammates, him, just telling them in a real, heartfelt way; you can tell he wants to continue to play and wants to be there for them right now and be battling through, but he just physically can’t right now,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said. “When you see someone describing that to their brothers, it tugs at your heart. You know how much it means to him and how much all his teammates mean to him, so it was difficult.”

 The 2006 fourth-overall selection played eight games so far this season and tallied one assist. He started to have hip issues back in 2015 and underwent other surgeries to try to solve the pain. He would continue to play through the injury and still produce at a high level. Backstrom had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) during Washington’s Stanley Cup run in 2018.

 “I think everybody knows what’s happening. It’s kind of hard as a friend, as a player, but we’re gonna support him in this moment,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “He’s a leader. He’s been with this organization for his whole career. I mean we’ve played together since day one and it’s kind of hard to see what’s happening right now.”

 Backstrom has been the alternate captain since the 2010-11 season. He has been described as a quiet leader, but a powerful voice and presence in the locker room. It is why guys like T.J. Oshie was excited to play with one of the best centers of this generation. Oshie was traded to the Capitals back in 2015 from the St. Louis Blues.

 “It’s going to be different in so many different aspects as far as leadership, as far as a super close friend. His support on and off the ice is second to none for a lot of guys in this room,” Oshie said. “When I got traded here, I was excited to play with No. 8 and No. 19. That’s what got me through the kind of pain of feeling like you’re getting shipped off… My career kind of got resurrected because he was my centerman. I know there’s a couple other guys that can say the same that have signed contracts because of what he’s able to do, how good of a teammate he is and how good he is at elevating other people’s play.”

 Backstrom will continue to be around the rink and doing everything he can to return to the lineup. He still has two years left on his five-year extension, which carries an average-annual value of $9.2 million, he signed back in 2019.

 Backstrom will likely go on long-term injured reserve soon. Washington already has Max Pacioretty and Joel Edmundson on LTIR.

Now that the Caps will be without No. 19 for the foreseeable future, Connor McMichael will move to his natural position at center and Hendrix Lapierre will continue to serve as the fourth line middleman.

The Capitals will shift their focus to Thursday’s tilt against the New York Islanders, seeking their fourth straight win. 

By Jacob Cheris

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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10 Responses to Capitals React To Nicklas Bäckström’s Decision To Step Away From The Game

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m crying. Next you’re going to tell us that Dowd is going too. Bad week for DC.

    • Diane Doyle says:

      I doubt Dowd is walking away from the game. At worst, maybe he goes on LTIR. Caps are having a very long LTIR list this week.

      But you’re right, not a good week in DC for sports.

      • DWGie26 says:

        Dowd will be fine. The only reason they moved him to IR was to put a 13th playable forward in the lineup. He can come back anytime. I wish we knew more but I don’t suspect he is more than a month. Let Protas play 4C for now. Lapierre as 13.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Best wishes for Backstrom no matter what. So who takes over LW until Pachy comes back? Snively? Limoges?

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m thinking that CMM moves to center and Lapierre will be on the wing. Although the article said Lapierre stays as the 4th live c, it might make more sense for him to be on the wing on the 3rd and maybe call NAK back and let him play wing on the 4th line as either Protas or Malenstyn can play C. Personally I would like to see Sutter get a shot on the 4th line at wing.

      • Anonymous says:

        Same guy from original: I could see them moving Mantha to LW, keep Philips and Protas as the bottom six RW’s, and Lapierre at 4C. I would also like to see Sutter get a shot at 4C, but maybe next year. He feels like the natural heir apparent to Dowd.

      • DWGie26 says:

        I agree with this. First move is Backstrom to LTIR. Then I am sending Lapierre back to Hershey to get large amounts of playing time in all situations in Hershey like CMM got last year. Third move would be to bring up NAK and Sutter creating a temporary 4th line of Malenstyn, Sutter, NAK whom have played together in some form over last two years. Phillips moves to popcorn duty. Sutter and NAK can play 9 games before needing to clear waivers again. Dowd should be back by then.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m not a salary cap person so I’m wondering if this might somehow help in dealing Mantha somewhere (ie retain a huge chunk of his salary for the remainder of this season).

    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t see how as it would help in any way, as it is still way to early to see if how Mantha has played so far will translate into interest in him in Jan/Feb. Also in retaining a huge chunck of his salary ensures that it will be someone from Hershey who will take his place, unless they find someone on the scrapheap or try to use Pacioretty.

    • DWGie26 says:

      WHEN Backstrom goes on LTIR (and I think the lag here is just to put some time between announcement and transaction), the Mantha salary is no longer an issue as we’ll have plenty of Cap Space. The goal is that he helps the caps win games and if the playoff chase gets ugly we move him to a contender for assets. But salary is not an issue.

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