Wednesday was a dark day in Washington Capitals history, but one that most knew was coming sooner rather than later.
Nicklas Backstrom said before the start of the season that his surgically-repaired hip was feeling 100%, but after eight games the 35-year-old center is calling it quits — for now.
“Given my ongoing injury situation, I decided to take some time and step away from the game,” Backstrom said Wednesday. “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.”
Having opened the season on the top line, Backstrom dropped to the third line after the Capitals’ second game. He’s tallied only one point so far this season, and has struggled to make an impact for the team this season.
Whether he comes back or retires, only time will tell. But regardless, there are a few options the Capitals could look to — some internal, some external — as they look to replace Backstrom’s ice time.
Center is the natural position for McMichael, who has only lined up on the wing this season. That alone seems to make him the internal front runner to claim Backstrom’s minutes up the middle — so much that he lined up there in Wednesday’s practice, per Monumental’s Tarik El-Bashir.
McMichael, 22, has three points in eight games this season — his first true opportunity as a regular — on the left wing. By moving him away from the spot, it would likely open up ice time for Anthony Mantha, barring any additional moves.
Lapierre was promoted from the Hershey Bears last week after Dowd was sidelined with an upper body injury. Lapierre filled the fourth-line center role in Sunday’s game against San Jose, and stands to line up there again Thursday against the Islanders.
Lapierre, the Capitals’ 2020 first-round draft pick, has only played in seven NHL games, however, and it seems more likely that the Capitals’ front office would accommodate McMichael before Lapierre.
Elias Lindholm/Nazem Kadri/Dillon Dube
The Calgary Flames, as we touched on Wednesday, are “on the precipice of having to take a radical new approach,” according to Sportsnet’s Eric Francis, one that would feature “a significant re-tooling.”
Because of this, as well as the fact that Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has long focused on the need for a top-six upgrade, Flames centers Elias Lindholm and Nazem Kadri could be intriguing options.
Lindholm, 28, is in the final year of his contract with the Flames, and general manager Craig Conroy may be keen to move him for something as the team halts contract negotiations. He’d be a big get for the Capitals for sure, but the question remains whether or not the Capitals will be able to not only meet the Flames’ price, but also Lindholm’s contract demands.
Kadri, 33, is locked up through the 2028-29 season at an annual $7.5 million cap hit, which may be off-putting to the Capitals front office. He’s also had a slow start to the current season, but did post 56 points last season — third best in Calgary.
Dube, 25, is a restricted free agent this offseason. As he can play both at center and on the wing, his versatility, age and team control may make him off limits on the trade market, but he would check a lot of boxes for Washington.