Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan says that it is unlikely franchise icon Nicklas Backstrom plays again this season after stepping away from the team last week.
MacLellan did not, however, rule Backstrom out for the entirety of the 2023-24 season.
“It’s emotional for everybody. He’s been such a big part of the organization,” he told reporters Monday. "It’s a tough situation, and eventually everybody’s got to move on.”
Backstrom, 35, recorded one assist in eight games this season. The Swedish center underwent hip resurfacing surgery back in June 2022.
“Given my ongoing injury situation, I decided to take some time and step away from the game. This is a difficult decision, but one that I feel is right for my health at this time,” Backstrom said in a team-released statement upon his decision. “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.”
“We know firsthand how hard he has worked and how determined he is to get back to full health,” MacLellan added in the statement.
Backstrom is amongst the most criminally underrated players of the modern era, though that sort of thing is bound to happen when you’re the longtime running mate of Alex Ovechkin. Since breaking into the league in 2007-08 until the end of the 2020-21 season, Backstrom ranked first in assists (722), second in power play points (396) and fifth in points (980) over a 1011 game span.
Since undergoing his hip procedure in June 2022, Backstrom has combined for 22 points in 47 games. The forward has two years remaining on a contract that carries a $9,200,000 cap hit.
“You watch his progression here over the last two-plus years: playing hurt, numerous recovery attempts to get it better, then the hip resurfacing,” MacLellan said. “It’s been a long process that has been hard on him mentally and emotionally. It’s been hard to see him go through all that stuff.”
With Backstrom focusing on his recovery, 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael has transitioned to center and taken a on much more significant role, though he's yet to register a point since being moved to the middle of Washington's third line. The 22-year-old played a pivotal role in the Hershey Bears’ Calder Cup championship last season and has recorded three points in ten games this year.
“I don’t think I’m going to be the guy that’s going to be able to just replace Nicklas Backstrom," McMichael said. “I think it’s calling out the whole team that everybody needs to step up and bring a little extra, and hopefully that can fill that void.”