ARLINGTON, V.A. — For Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, hockey is his life. That’s why, despite feeling the after-effects and lingering hip pain connected to an injury and surgery from 2015, he put in the work and played through pain in 2021-22. But going forward, that may not be the best option.
Now, with the season over and a long summer ahead, Backstrom knows there is a lot to do besides just resting up. In fact, there are potentially career-altering decisions that may have to be made for the Capitals star center, who acknowledged that he likely won’t return to full strength.
“The hip’s not going to be 100 percent. That’s something we all know,” Backstrom said. “Some days are good, some days are less good. That’s just life.”
Backstrom missed the start of the 2021-22 campaign for Washington as he rehabilitated his hip and returned for 47 games down the stretch, dishing six goals and 25 assists. While he appeared to be playing through pain in the playoffs, he still managed to string together a strong series with two goals and four assists through six games.
“I was just happy I was back playing and trying to help the team,” Backstrom said.
So when it comes to next season, it seems as though nothing is necessarily off the table for No. 19, whether that is surgery or a decision regarding whether or not to continue his historic career.
“I think he’s going to explore all options here,” general manager Brian MacLellan said when asked if Backstrom’s ailment was potentially career-ending. “He wants to be more physically comfortable when he plays, so he’s going to explore it.”
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The 34-year-old Swede simply wants to feel better and be able to get back to a normal routine, and he has not made any decisions yet with regard to the next steps.
“The best thing I want to do is play hockey, and that’s my life,” Backstrom noted. “Obviously, I want to be back. I want to be back to normal, not worrying about this. We’ll see what’s going to happen, nothing’s finalized yet.”
Backstrom has three years left on a five-year extension he signed with the Capitals back in 2020. Backstrom has maintained consistency over nearly his entire career, and this past season, hit the 1,000-point mark. Backstrom also has 264 goals and a franchise-record 742 helpers to his name.
Looking at Backstrom’s resiliency, captain and longtime teammate and friend Alex Ovechkin is proud and believes that he still has a lot to bring to the table.
“He’s a warrior, he’s a tough man,” Ovechkin said. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to be better next year. Obviously, everybody knows what he means to the team, for the organization, for us. He’s a leader, and I hope he’s going to be better.”
Backstrom is going to stay in D.C. until his children finish the school year, and then the rehabilitation and decision-making process will take center stage. Ultimately, though, he’s not rushing to make a choice, and he’ll do what is best for both sides going forward.
“We’ll see what’s going to happen,” Backstrom said. “We have some decisions to make. Those decisions aren’t finalized yet. So we’ll take it day by day.”