Connect with us

Capitals Features

Hip Resurfacing Surgery Didn’t Just Extend Backstrom’s Career. It Gave Him His Life Back

Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom opens up about living without pain for the first time in years, returning from hip resurfacing surgery and more.



ARLINGTON, V.A. — When Nicklas Backstrom woke up from hip resurfacing surgery in Belgium, the Washington Capitals forward felt something he hadn't felt for years: no pain.

He recalled immediately feeling the effects of the experimental procedure, one that would not only get him back on the ice and extend his career but free him from chronic pain that he'd dealt with for years as he struggled to put on socks, pick up his kids, tie his skates or even walk properly.

"I think it was just like, went back to… I don't know, calmness in my body if that makes sense," Backstrom explained, looking for the right words to describe the feeling of leading a normal life. "It was just a nice feeling, you know? And I felt it right away, which was nice. It was an awesome feeling for me personally."

A year ago, Backstrom was at his lowest point. He had originally addressed his hip issues in 2015 with arthroscopic surgery, a less invasive and more common procedure, but felt things start to flare up again over the last few seasons. To start 2021-22, Backstrom was on the long-term injured reserve as he worked to rehabilitate and address his hip pain while holding off on surgery. Although he felt good for the first few games back, he started experiencing trouble again as each stride led the ball and socket in his hip joint to grind together.

"You never want to see a guy going through pain, and I think every team there's a guy or two that you're like, 'He's just not right' or 'He's battling," Tom Wilson, who rehabbed with Backstrom as both had similar timelines following their offseason procedures, said of No. 19's demeanor in 2021-22.

"A lot of the guys said he seemed like he was limping all the time," goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who has dealt with hip issues of his own, noted. 

At the end of the season, Backstrom came to terms with the fact that his hip was not going to get better on its own, and with the pain hitting its peak and after consulting with other athletes and doctors, he underwent the procedure in June as a last resort and one last shot at saving his career, even though the experimental surgery led several critics to speculate whether or not he'd played his last NHL game.

"The situation, what he's been through… it's hard mentally," captain and longtime friend Alex Ovechkin said. "Physically, you don't know if you're going to be able to play hockey or not."

WHN FEATURES: For Ovechkin, Time With Ovi. Jr Makes 2023 NHL All-Star Weekend Best One Yet

Backstrom, however, was a different person when he returned home from the procedure. Finally, he was able to operate without pain and able to walk, run and exercise without his hip bothering him. Still, the timetable was long, and there would be a lot of hard work in front of him when it came to continuing his NHL journey, and of course, risks and possible setbacks that could get in the way.

That in itself presented Backstrom with another obstacle, but he found solace in positive thinking and the fact that he finally had a solution to his hip pain and no longer had to live with uncertainty.

"I think everyone goes through some times when there's darker moments in their career," Backstrom said. "Obviously, that was one of the dark ones for me. So it was tough, but at the same time, I just got to put that aside and get back to work.

"I think it's more important that you just try to reset yourself after stuff like that," Backstrom said. "I think the most frustrating thing was we didn't really have any answer until I got one this year. That was nice."

His teammates took note of a "brand new Nick" as well, watching as a rejuvenated Backstrom was back in the gym, putting in exercise, pushing his limits and working closely with the training staff to get back to full strength as he took in life through a whole new perspective. That led to his first time back on skates, which was a major turning point for Backstrom on his road back.

"It was just a game-changer," he said, then smiled, "I haven't skated like that in a couple years, you know?"

READ MORE ON WHN: Strome & Milano Extensions Hint At Washington Capitals' Plans For Future

However, being back on the ice didn't automatically make him ready for game action. There was still a lot to consider and questions that still had to be answered, ones that players like Lindgren have asked themselves.

"Every time you're taking a stride, if you feel that hip bothering you, it's gonna affect the way you skate," Lindgren explained. "Obviously, skating's very important as a player, so there's definitely a mental aspect to it. I'm sure mentally for him probably getting back on the ice and getting into a game, that's got to be a mental hurdle. You're probably asking yourself, 'Okay, how am I gonna feel, how am I gonna feel when I get hit?'"

With the exception of a bout of COVID-19, there were no setbacks. Backstrom has been pain-free since undergoing the procedure and was able to progress on schedule to the point where he was back taking hits and engaging in full contact. Not only is he back playing games, but the skill that has made him a renowned center and playmaker for the entirety of his career is returning with each shift. Through 10 games, he has one goal and four assists, as well as points in three of his last five games and a shootout winner.

"He's got one of the best minds in the game, so when his body allows him to do what his mind is telling him, it's a pretty scary recipe for success," Wilson said. "It's nice to see him moving better and pain-free, and his body's responding to what he wants it to do. He thinks the game better than anybody I've ever played with, so when he's moving at full speed and feeling like himself, he's a heck of a player and one we're lucky to have."

"Me and him spend lots of time together off the ice, on the ice," Ovechkin added. "I was happy to see him back."

Most importantly, though, Backstrom has gotten his love of the game back and his life back, and as a result, he's a different person.

"It's working out. I got a second chance to extend my career, I'm very happy to be back," Backstrom said. "It's just so much fun to play games again and compete out there with the guys, so very fortunate.

"I was more positive and [feel] better than last year. Last year was more frustrating," Backstrom continued, then smiled, "I'm happier as a guy and happier as a person."

Get WHN in Your Inbox

Enter your email address and receive notifications of new posts by email.

All the Capitals news that's fit to print

Sign up and get all of our stories sent directly to your inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.