Nicklas Backstrom needs to know he doesn’t owe anything to anyone

In his 15 seasons with the Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom has played in over 1,000 games and scored over 1,000 points as one of the few athletes in this city that you can set your watch on. However, over the past few years, a thigh injury disabled him so severely that he was unable to pull on his socks or tie his shoes. He could and probably should have retired. is not going to.

He said, “I owe it to myself, to the organization, to the fans to try to come back.”

Let’s be clear about this, Nick: You don’t owe anything to anyone.

The Capitals held their annual pre-training media day on Thursday, and for the second year in a row they had no idea when Backstrom would next play for them – or frankly, if he will. His thirty-fifth birthday is in November. He gave his body to his team and his sport so much that playing with his kids was no start. Are you playing hockey again? why?

“A lot of guys were just saying, ‘Hey, it’s been tough, I don’t want to do that anymore,'” said longtime teammate Tom Wilson.

“I think a lot of people would probably have given up,” said long-time colleague TJ O’Shea.

Niklas Backstrom ‘optimistic’ about a comeback, but Caps’ injury remains

Given his role in establishing hockey as a sport that can create quite a stir in the region, and his role in building the culture of capitals in which he expects to win, he has no need to dress up for another game, provide another assist, or play another turn. The problem is that he has an absolute and constant desire to do all of these things.

“It’s going to be a tough comeback, if you want to call it that,” Backstrom said during Thursday’s interview. “Yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished here. But at the same time, I want to finish on my own terms. I don’t want to go out feeling like this has stopped me.”

Oh man, did it look like he was holding him back last year. The approach before the 2021-22 season was to have Backstrom rest and strengthen his hip through the fall, then see if he could play from mid-December through the spring playoffs. His output was good: six goals and 25 assists in 47 regular season games. His form was less than that.

Backstrom is built on intelligence more than speed. But that’s the NHL, and there’s a base rate at which the center has to move. Often times, Backstrom doesn’t have access to it. In another first-round loss, his production — six points in six games against Florida — hid the fact that even while trying to drive, he represented more of a physical responsibility.

Last December, about a week before his season debut, Backstrom sat on the sofa in the foyer of the capital’s training facility and said to me, “Obviously, I don’t want to go in there and not be myself.” Then he went out there and couldn’t be himself. Doubt arose about whether he could regain his form – and it persisted.

“If you go back a few years, you will always find it in the back of your head,” he said on Thursday. “You’re like, ‘What next?’ What other options are available to me? “

Off-season choice: Hip arthroplasty – a type of hip replacement that, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, involves trimming the head of the femur and covering it with a smooth metal cap, as well as removing damaged bone and cartilage from the socket and replacing it with a metal shell. It was a serious decision to take serious action.

“I don’t know it’s really done to the level that it is,” General Manager Brian McClellan said. “It’s a dangerous intrusion into your body.”

On June 17, Backstrom underwent surgery in Belgium.

“On June 18, there was a lot of pain,” he said.

To help navigate the road, Backstrom spoke to other athletes who have undergone the same procedure – including former Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and former NBA star Isaiah Thomas. It has earned honest but also positive reviews. On Thursday, he can smile about his situation.

“Honestly, if you take the conversation we had last year, that’s a completely different conversation,” Backstrom said, recalling the dark days of getting ready to play on one leg. “Now I can do things I haven’t done in years.”

This does not include skiing yet. Does not include hockey yet. No one can or will say when these steps will be taken.

“The process from surgery so far has been really good,” Backstrom said. “I’m in good spirits, you know? I’m fine mentally.”

Capitals open a training camp with a new goalkeeper and the same expectations

There is an integral part to all of this, and it has to do with building Capitals and Backstrom’s roster to earn the money he promised when he signed a five-year, $46 million extension that ensured he would never play in another uniform. If he retires, The Capitals will be free of $9.2 million a year on the salary cap — but Backstrom will lose the remaining cash. If he goes to an injured reserve for a long time, even for one year at a time, he will earn his money and the hats can recover from the cap. The Caps also has insurance on the deal, according to a person familiar with it, in which 80 percent of his salary is covered after deducting 30 games of salary.

Is commitment to this contract – and the organization that issued it – part of his motives?

“I think about it two ways,” Backstrom said. “Let’s say I don’t have a contract right now. It probably won’t be signed anywhere. At the same time, I was fortunate to sign a five-year deal with Washington based on what I’ve accomplished and what we’ve won here and everything.

“So, yeah, I want to finish on my own terms. I have three years left, and I think I can play — I hope to play those three years. I think I can help.”

Translation: You will have to pull it off the ice.

“The passion is still there,” McClellan said. “It’s fun to play – or I don’t think he would.”

Practice begins on Friday, and there is room for optimism. “I’m optimistic,” Backstrom said. But it is important to be realistic and not rosy. Self-awareness is especially difficult for elite athletes who know what they used to be and desperately want to get back to it again.

“I don’t know exactly what version we’ll see,” Backstrom said. “A pain-free version would be great.”

this is the most important. But so is production. Niklas Backstrom’s number 19 will be raised to the rafters in Chinatown one day regardless of whether he ever wears home clothes again. He should know that he will be cherished here either way and should be proud of doing all the work he has to get to this point – even if he’s not a version of himself that we’ve known all these years.

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