ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said it’s unlikely Nicklas Backstrom plays again this season after the Swedish center stepped away from the team last week, citing the ongoing issues with his surgically repaired left hip.
MacLellan stopped short of ruling Backstrom out for the remainder of the season or saying the franchise cornerstone had played his final NHL game. The soon-to-be 36-year-old is expected to go on long-term injured reserve in the near future.
“It’s emotional for everybody. He’s been such a big part of the organization,” MacLellan said Monday. “It’s a tough situation, and eventually everybody’s got to move on.”
Backstrom is the Capitals’ second-longest-tenured player behind captain Alex Ovechkin, and his 762 career assists in the regular season are the most in franchise history. After arthroscopic surgery on the hip in 2015, he had the more invasive operation in the summer of 2022 and insisted at the start of training camp he was fully healthy and ready to play.
He had just one point in eight games this season, was taken off the top power-play unit and had his ice time drastically reduced. It looked in practice like he was a candidate to be a healthy scratch before the decision was made to take a leave of absence.
“You watch his progression here over the last two-plus years: playing hurt, numerous recovery attempts to get it better, then the hip resurfacing,” MacLellan said. “It’s been a long process that has been hard on him mentally and emotionally. It’s been hard to see him go through all that stuff.”
Washington is counting on 22-year-old Connor McMichael to shift to center in Backstrom’s absence and for others to step up.
“I don’t think I’m going to be the guy that’s going to be able to just replace Nicklas Backstrom,” McMichael said. “I think it’s calling out the whole team that everybody needs to step up and bring a little extra, and hopefully that can fill that void.”
Fellow Swede Rasmus Sandin said Backstrom helped make him feel comfortable since being traded from Toronto in late February, and he brings as much in the locker room as on the ice.
“It’s a hole that is tough to fill,” Sandin said. “But he’s got to do what he’s got to do, and we completely understand that.”
MacLellan said the development with Backstrom has not changed his plan: The Capitals since the offseason have been looking for a young forward to play in their top six.
Beyond McMichael, reinforcements may soon be coming from within the organization. Injured center Nic Dowd and defenseman Joel Edmundson could resume practicing by the end of the week, and veteran winger Max Pacioretty has started skating on his own in an attempt to come back from re-tearing his right Achilles tendon.
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL