As the offseason begins, we’ll take a player-by-player look at the year that was for the Washington Capitals.
Contract status: $6.7 million in 2010-11, $6.7 million in 2011-12.
The year that was: Nicklas Backstrom was far from the only Capital to see a dropoff in offensive production this year, but his slide from 101 points in 2009-10 to 65 in 2010-11 was surprisingly sharp. There was arguably no one more frustrated with his playoff performance than the No. 1 center.
There have been plenty of guesses about the reason behind Backstrom’s offensive slip. Some speculated that he’d lost some motivation after signing a 10-year, $67 million contract extension. Others suggested he was out of shape, or got caught in the rip tide of offensive and power-play struggles that swept the team. Then there was the broken left thumb he suffered in late February, which eventually caused him to miss games for the first time in his career.
With his scoring impact diminished, Backstrom remained one of the most heavily utilized players on the roster, seeing significant ice time in all situations. His defensive instincts helped him be on the ice for only 1.80 goals per 60 minutes, but it’s possible the amount of responsibility Backstrom shoulders in his own end may have impacted his offensive output.
Backstrom upped his faceoff winning percentage in the regular season, as he has done each season in the NHL, to a 52.5 percent success rate. In the playoffs, though, his faceoff success dropped to 46 percent.
“I’m just disappointed with myself, and the way I played,” Backstrom said on the day of exit interviews. “I felt like I could do so much better, but that’s the thing you have to battle through, too. I think you have to make sure that you bounce back and play better. I mean, it’s been going, me personally with goals and things like that, it’s been going up straight for about three years and I knew sometime it was going to go back down. I think that’s how it goes in hockey: It goes up and down and stuff like that, but I don’t have any excuse for my effort in the playoff. I don’t know, just a bad effort for me.”
Looking ahead: The 23-year-old Swede summed up his season rather well. The recently downturn could simply be growing pains, but the way Backstrom responds next year will ultimately show what he’s gleaned from the experience.
He’s one of two players on the roster signed to essentially a lifetime contract, and his successes and failures are tightly tied to those of the Capitals as a whole.
Etc.: Over the course of the season, Backstrom may have been asked about no other player on the roster more than his fellow countryman, rookie Marcus Johansson. They didn’t know each other before Johansson came to North America last fall and have since become good friends, but Backstrom admitted that early on it was a little surreal to consider himself a mentor at the ripe old age of 23.
“To be that guy at first was a little tough,” Backstrom said. “I’m not that much older than him, and I didn’t know Marcus at all. But it was up to me to help, I think. He reminded me of where I was [as a rookie] and how important it is to have that person.”