The 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.
“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.
Word is Backstrom will go on IR today. Wouldn’t be a surprise to see him land on LTI at some point in the near future. #Caps
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) November 1, 2023
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