Washington Capitals president of hockey operations and general manager Brian MacLellan met with the media today following Monday’s practice. This was the first time the Caps GM held a press conference since the news came that Nicklas Backstrom would be stepping away from the game to address his health.
Backstrom called MacLellan on Nov. 1 to ask if they could meet, and that is when he delivered the news saying he would be stepping away. When asked by NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti as to whether No. 19 could possibly return to the lineup, MacLellan said that it is unlikely.
Mac on 19: “I don’t know if we can describe how much he’s meant. …The way he handles himself off the ice and on the ice, that’s a big part of our success and our culture that we’ve had over the years here.” #Caps https://t.co/41o1CkYHiH
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) November 6, 2023
“It’s a tough one. You watch his progression here over the last two plus years, playing hurt, numerous recovery attempts to get it better, then the hip resurfacing, so I mean, it’s been a long process. I think it’s been hard on him mentally and emotionally,” MacLellan said on Monday. “A lot of respect for the person, first of all, and the player. I don’t know that we can describe how much he’s meant to the organization. He’s the guy that’s driven the culture here for a long time. The way he handles himself off the ice and on the ice. I think that’s a big part of our success and our culture that we’ve had over the years here.”
Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said that his body has not responded the way he wanted it to through the first eight games of the season. The Swedish center will be placed on LTIR at some point according to MacLellan. Backstrom signed a five-year extension back in January 2020 and still has two-years left on the deal, which carries a cap hit of $9.2 million annually.
The 2006 fourth-overall pick has been with the Capitals for his entire 17-year NHL career. He ranks first in franchise history with 762 assists and is second all-time with 1033 points. He played in just eight games this season and racked up one assist.
“I think it’s emotional for everybody. He’s been such a big part of the organization; I think you see the way that players react. Every coach and coaching staff that’s gone through here has the utmost respect for him,” MacLellan said. “It’s a tough situation and eventually everybody’s got to move on.”
Now that Backstrom is presumably out for the season, other players will have to step up. Connor McMichael was slotted in his natural position at center for the last two games and played well.
Meanwhile, Hendrix Lapierre has been centering the fourth line with Nic Dowd still ailing. MacLellan said that the goal is to get him participating in a practice towards the end of this week. Dowd was skating in a non-contact jersey prior to Friday’s practice along with Joel Edmundson. Furthermore, Max Pacioretty continues to progress but there is no timetable for his return.
MacLellan also mentioned that he is still looking to add a top six forward via trade, which has been a goal of his since the offseason. Though MacLellan says that he likes the roster as it is, if an opportunity presents itself to acquire a top six forward in the right age group, he will pursue.
The Capitals are currently 5-4-1 and sit at fifth place in the Metropolitan Division with 11 points. They will take on the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at Capital One Arena.
By Jacob Cheris