Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom started last season strong, storming out of the gate with 30 points in Washington's first 26 games, a 94-point, 82-game pace.
Then things went south.
The Super Swede had a 21-game stretch without a goal and didn't score a power-play goal in his last 66 games, including the playoffs. He finished with just two assists in nine postseason games and went over 106 minutes in which he didn’t register a single shot on goal.
Backstrom ended up finishing the 2010-11 campaign with 18 goals and career lows in assists (47) and games played (77) in the first season of a 10-year, $67 million deal. In exit interviews, he said he was “disappointed” with his performance.
Some will point to the broken left thumb Backstrom suffered in late February, which kept him out of games for the first time in his career, but General Manager George McPhee rejected the idea that an injury was to blame.
The stats agree. After Backstrom fractured his left thumb Feb. 21 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he took more scoring chances and shots per game but converted on fewer than half of them. A scoring chance is a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area – loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots. Generating the shot itself is based more on talent than converting it, so the numbers suggest it wasn't much of a factor.
How much better can we reasonably expect Backstrom to be next season?
When Backstrom is on the ice, he is a big part of the offense. Whether it is five-aside or with the man advantage, he typically registers points on two-thirds of the goals scored and scores almost a fifth of those goals himself.
Examining how the team will do going forward can give us some insight into what his boxcar stats will be at the end of the 2011-12 season.
Even with the recent change to a more defensive system, Washington has kept its even-strength and power-play shots on goal per game fairly consistent these past few years with Backstrom on the ice.
As a result, Backstrom should be on the ice for eight shots on goal during even strength and another three when the Capitals have the man advantage. The team's shooting percentage, especially on the power play, will likely improve to a rate more in agreement with the skill level of his linemates. My estimates are 10 percent during five-on-five and 17 percent when Washington has the man advantage.
Converting those back to boxcar stats over a full season indicates Backstrom will score 11 even-strength goals along with seven more on the power play next year. He will also tally 52 assists in 2011-12.
That gives us a reasonable expectation of 18 goals plus 52 assists for 70 points in 81 games for the Capitals' top pivot, not much improvement over last year.