Backstrom could miss Capitals season opener

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Nicklas Backstrom said his injured left hip is improving, but the center hasn’t resumed skating and could miss the Washington Capitals’ regular-season opener against the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

“We don’t know yet, but I haven’t been on the ice yet, so we will see,” Backstrom said Saturday. “Week to week, we will take it by there, so I don’t know. I mean, obviously, I want to be out there with the guys, but at the same time, I want to feel good again and be the best I can when I start.”

The 33-year-old, who has been bothered by the injury since last season and missed one game because of it, has been on the ice only “a little bit” since the end of last season.

On Saturday, he worked out off the ice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex but has been rehabbing his hip at an unspecified location away from the Capitals.

“It’s getting better and better,” Backstrom said. “I think we are not rushing here. We are looking at it long term not short term, making sure it is ready before I start skating.”

Coach Peter Laviolette stopped short of saying Backstrom won’t be ready for the start of the regular season but acknowledged time is running short.

“Right now, it still remains the same for me,” Laviolette said. “When I talk to the trainers, he’s not available. It was listed at 1-2 weeks. Nothing’s changed since then. As you guys know, there’s always a process to where you see the guys (skate initially in a non-contact jersey). … There’s a process that goes with it and we’re still not there yet.”

Backstrom confirmed his injury is to the same hip he had arthroscopic surgery on in May 2015, which caused him to miss the first three games of the 2015-16 season.

However, he said the possibility of having surgery on the hip again has been ruled out.

“I did that already, six years ago,” Backstrom said.

“I have no timetable here. We’re just going to listen to the body and go slow. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully I’ll be back skating soon.”

Last season, Backstrom led Washington and was 20th in the NHL with 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) in 55 regular-season games but was held to one assist in five games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Capitals were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the first round.

He is entering his 15th NHL season and the second of a five-year, $46 million contract (average annual value $9.2 million) he signed Jan. 14, 2020. 

“I think what happened is just over time, over the years, it’s been grinding it a little bit,” Backstrom said. “I just think that that happens and when that happens, you just kind of have to reset and build it up again, and that is where we are at. And it takes longer than you hope, but that is just progress. Just part of building it up again and making it strong again.”  

Selected by Washington with the No. 4 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, Backstrom leads the League with 722 assists in 1,011 regular-season games since making his debut at the start of the 2007-08 season, and his 980 points rank fifth in the NHL over that span behind Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (1,122), Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (1,103), Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (1,088), and Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (1,019).

If healthy, Backstrom would be a leading candidate to represent Sweden in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. It would be his third Olympics after playing in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when he helped Sweden win the silver medal.

“Honestly, as of right now, I’m just focusing on getting back here and making sure I feel as good as possible,” Backstrom said. “Planning ahead, we’ll see what happens, but obviously Olympics is a huge tournament and very fun tournament to play. But we’ll see how it goes. I’ve got to get ready here first and produce so I make the (Olympic) team.”

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