ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Nicklas Backstrom is sick and tired of talking about his surgically repaired left hip.
The Swedish center opened Washington Capitals camp saying he feels “way better” after a normal summer of training and different — in a good way — than a year ago when he was still recovering from his hip resurfacing operation.
Only one other player in NHL history previously came back from hip resurfacing, and Patrick Kane is aiming to be the third. Backstrom, who turns 36 in November, insists the entire process and the injury that nagged him for quite some time is behind him and he's back to normal.
“I got nothing more to say about it,” Backstrom said. “I mean, I’m 100%. I’ve done everything I can this summer. I worked really hard and really excited to be here for training camp. Love this team, love this city, love the fans. There’s nothing I’m more excited about than going back and playing hockey.”
With questions already about Evgeny Kuznetsov coming off a disappointing season and being the subject of trade talks, the Capitals hope Backstrom can return to playing at a high level. If not, they're in trouble in their attempt to return to the playoffs.
Captain and longtime teammate Alex Ovechkin believes Backstrom is in good shape and “ready for the year.” New coach Spencer Carbery likes what he sees so far, even while acknowledging Backstrom won't just turn back the clock to the start of his prime.
“I’m very hopeful and optimistic that he’s going to be a massive part of our group and be able to play at a high level,” Carbery said. "Is he going to be the Nick Backstrom from 10 years ago? Do I have any illusions of that? No. But I also think he can be a very, very effective player on our team — on a winning team.”
Washington has only missed the playoffs twice since Backstrom made his NHL debut in 2007: in 2014, sparking front office and coaching changes that paved the way to the 2018 Stanley Cup run, and then last season, when he didn't play until January.
Over the past two years gutting through and coming back from the injury, Backstrom recorded a total of 52 points in 86 games — one fewer than he had in 55 games in 2021.
Defenseman John Carlson, who was out from Dec. 23-March 23 after taking a slap shot to the face, empathizes with Backstrom trying to ramp up again after the surgery.
“He’s had a tough shake the last few years," Carlson said. "It’s difficult to come back and find your game right away. So he’s been doing that for the last two years and now he got the end of the season and the summer and I’m sure it will be completely different.”
General manager Brian MacLellan after last season said Backstrom was “going to have to make a decision on his career where he thinks he’s at.” There was never any indication on Backstrom's end that he was considering retirement, and he deferred those questions to MacLellan.
“I’m just going control the things that I can, be as prepared as possible and I’m excited,” Backstrom said. "I really am.”
The Capitals seem cautiously optimistic, though the next step Carbery and MacLellan need to see is Backstrom getting through preseason and then regular-season game action.
“He had a really good offseason," MacLellan said. "It’ll be how he progresses here through camp, through exhibition games and into the season. I think it’s all positive right now.”
NOTES: The team announced Wednesday that defenseman Joel Edmundson had surgery to stabilize a fractured hand and is expected to be out 4 -6 weeks. Edmundson was injured in the Capitals' scrimmage Sunday. His absence opens the door for Alexander Alexeyev, Vincent Iorio, Hardy Haman Aktell or Lucas Johansen to earn a spot in the opening night lineup. ... Carbery said there's still no timetable for winger Max Pacioretty to make his Capitals debut after re-tearing his right Achilles tendon in January.
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press