ARLINGTON, Va. — Nicklas Backstrom probably won’t play for the Washington Capitals again this season because of continued issues with his surgically repaired left hip, general manager Brian MacLellan said Monday.
“I would say it’s unlikely at this point,” MacLellan said. “But we’ll play it out here a little bit.”
The Capitals announced on Wednesday that Backstrom is taking time away from hockey because of what the 35-year-old forward called, “my ongoing injury situation.”
“This is a difficult decision, but one that I feel is right for my health at this time,” Backstrom said in a statement released by the team. “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, who has one assist in eight games this season, had resurfacing surgery on his left hip June 17, 2022. The 35-year-old returned to have 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 39 games last season and proclaimed himself “100 percent” in training camp after having a full offseason to train for the first time since 2020, but informed MacLellan, coach Spencer Carbery, and Washington’s training staff last week that his hip was not responding how he would like.
“It’s a tough one,” MacLellan said. “You watch his progression here over the two-plus years, playing hurt, numerous recovery attempts to get it better, then the hip resurfacing. I mean it’s been a long process that has been hard on him mentally and emotionally. So, it’s been hard to see him go through all that stuff and then make the decision the other day.”
Backstrom has had chronic problems with his hip. After having arthroscopic surgery on it in 2015, it began to bother him again late in the 2020-21 season. Attempting to avoid another surgery, he missed the first 28 games in 2021-22 while rehabbing his hip and returned to get 31 points (six goals, 25 assists) in 47 regular-season games and six points (two goals, four assists) in six Stanley Cup Playoff games for Washington.
Backstrom chose to have hip resurfacing surgery following that season as what he called “a last resort.” Florida Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski was the only previous player to return to the NHL after having hip resurfacing surgery when he played 37 games in 2013-14 before retiring.
MacLellan said the possibility of playing the rest of this season and, potentially beyond, without Backstrom was emotional for the entire team.
“You see the way the players react,” he said. “Every coach and coaching staff that’s gone through here has the utmost respect for him. So, I think it’s a period of — it’s a tough situation, and eventually everybody’s got to move on.”
Selected with the No. 4 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, Backstrom is second in Capitals history behind Alex Ovechkin with 1,033 points (271 goals, 762 assists) in 1,105 NHL regular-season games. He is Washington’s all-time assists leader and ranks second in team history in games played, power-play points (421) and overtime goals (nine), and fourth in goals, power-play goals (86) and game-winning goals (39).
Backstrom’s 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in the 2018 playoffs helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup for the first time in their history. He is second in Capitals history with 114 points (38 goals, 76 assists) in 139 playoff games, also behind Ovechkin (141 points).
“I don’t know if we can describe how much he’s meant to the organization,” MacLellan said. “He’s the guy that has driven the culture here for a long time — pretty much his whole career here, 17 years. 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.”
Backstrom has two seasons left on a five-year, $46 million contract ($9.2 million average annual value) he signed Jan. 14, 2020. He was placed on injured reserve last week. MacLellan said he will “eventually” be placed on long-term injured reserve. That would open some salary cap space for the Capitals to make additions to roster.
MacLellan acknowledged he’s continuing his pursuit of a trade for a top-six forward. The Capitals (5-4-1) could use scoring help. They are 31st in the NHL in scoring 1.90 goals per game.
“Our goal is to still add a top-six guy in the right age group from the offseason,” he said. “Our goal is still to do that. We’re still pursuing opportunities that might present that.”
MacLellan said there is no timetable yet for forward Max Pacioretty to play this season. The 34-year-old, who signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Capitals on July 1, hasn’t played since tearing his right Achilles tendon for the second time when playing for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 19, but has begun skating on his own.
“He’s starting progression, the skating progression,” MacLellan said. “I think they have a set schedule where he’s limited how many times he can get on the ice. We won’t have a definite time period for him until he joins practice. So, we’ll determine that with how he does with his skating sessions, individual skating sessions.”
MacLellan said defenseman Joel Edmundson (broken hand) and forward Nic Dowd(upper body) will likely return to practice by the end of this week. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk is day to day with a lower-body injury he sustained in a 2-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.