ARLINGTON, Va. — When Nicklas Backstrom arrived for Day 1 of Washington Capitals training camp, there was one thing he knew he didn’t want to talk about: his hip.
It’s a hot topic around Medstar Capitals Iceplex for sure, considering that lingering hip problems limited Backstrom’s effectiveness on the ice for much of the past two seasons. But 15 months after Backstrom went under the knife, he’s trying to move on from the toughest part of his professional career.
“I’m 100%,” Backstrom said. “I’ve done everything I can this summer. I worked really hard … I can only control the things that I can control, and that’s being as prepared as possible, and that’s what I’ve done.”
The franchise’s assist leader, major problems first arose during the 2021-22 season — pain so problematic that Backstrom couldn’t even bend over to put on his socks. Obviously he struggled on the ice, playing in only 47 games.
That summer, Backstrom underwent hip-resurfacing surgery — a procedure intended for more active patients that, unlike a traditional hip replacement, attempts to retain greater amounts of bone. But the long term impact on active NHL players has been unclear, forcing many to wonder which version of Backstrom would return to the ice.
Ryan Kesler, who underwent the procedure in 2019, never returned to the ice. Ed Jovanoski returned from his 2013 surgery to play in 36 more games before his career came to a close.
Backstrom has already surpassed both.
After missing the first three months of the 2022-23 season, Backstrom returned in January. He tallied a career-low 21 points, but still managed to play in 39 games.
“It’s tough to come back, it’s tough to just fit yourself back in — there’s a ramp up to any season, there’s a ramp up to every summer you know, working out, skating, playing small area games,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said.
“Playing a full ice game is different, playing in training camp is different, playing in a preseason game — it’s a huge build up. When you just take out five of those steps, it’s difficult to come back and find your game right away. He’s been doing that for the last two years. Now he got the end of the season and a summer, and I’m sure it’ll be completely different.”
Backstrom hit the ice Thursday for the team’s first day of training camp. He didn’t appear slowed whatsoever by any drills or the team’s skating test, but obviously longevity is key to truly uncover his true impact.
With Backstrom back in action, it didn’t take long for him to join up with Alex Ovechkin, skating on a line with him and Anthony Mantha throughout the day.
“Feels like back in the day,” the 35-year-old Backstrom said.
Capitals Group A working on the side rink now. Includes Ovechkin, Backstom, Miroshnichenko, others. pic.twitter.com/r36VQ3yXcp
— Jared Serre (@JaredSerre) September 21, 2023