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Nicklas Backstrom plans to play next season, Caps’ GM says

Nicklas Backstrom had six goals and 25 assists in 47 games during the 2021-22 regular season. He has three years left on his five-year, $46 million contract. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom intends to play next season, General Manager Brian MacLellan said Wednesday. Backstrom, 34, is recovering from hip resurfacing surgery, which he underwent in June in Belgium.

The Capitals did not provide a timetable for Backstrom’s return, but MacLellan said doctors and trainers have been happy with his progress since the procedure.

“It’s a hard surgery, and until we see him halfway into his recovery, what mobility, strength he’s gotten back from it, it’s tough to project,” MacLellan said. “... So we’re going to wait and see where he’s at, how he’s feeling and how he’s progressing.”

Backstrom dealt with a nagging hip injury throughout the 2021-22 season. The Swedish standout had arthroscopic hip surgery, a minimally invasive procedure, in 2015, but the issue flared up at the end of the 2020-21 season. He opted against surgery last summer and instead focused on rehabbing, then missed the first two months of the season.

From June: Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom undergoes hip surgery, faces ‘lengthy recovery’

Although Backstrom’s timeline to return is unclear, the Capitals do not intend to make a splash for a center in free agency, which opens July 13. The draft is Thursday and Friday; the Capitals have six picks, including No. 20 overall.

Backstrom still has three years left on his five-year, $46 million contract.

“The anticipation is Nick’s coming back at some point, so it’s not that you can use that [salary cap] space,” MacLellan said when asked how Backstrom’s uncertain status will affect Washington’s offseason plans. “We’re going to look to fill [Backstrom’s roster spot] from within first and then go from there. . . . The salary cap is the salary cap. We have to count on [Backstrom] coming back at some point. . . . It’s not like we can go out and sign a $9 million player. We are anticipating Nick comes back at some point. Until that goes away, we are planning on him coming back.”

Young players such as Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre and Aliaksei Protas are expected to compete for that opening.

MacLellan also addressed the status of winger Carl Hagelin, who had surgery on his left eye in March, saying a final determination on his progress will come in August. At that time, the team will be informed whether the surgery completely healed the eye and whether Hagelin’s eyesight has been restored enough to allow him to play.

Emily Engel-Natzke joins Capitals’ staff as video coordinator

MacLellan also said he doesn’t anticipate any other changes to the coaching staff after assistant Scott Arniel’s departure this week. After the draft Washington will start looking at candidates to replace Arniel, who joined the Winnipeg Jets as associate coach under new head coach Rick Bowness.

Washington’s goaltending situation is still the status quo, MacLellan said, and the Capitals intend to extend qualifying offers to Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, who are restricted free agents. The deadline to do so is Monday. Washington will still seek a veteran goalie through the trade market or in free agency.

“We’ll explore trade opportunities there. We’ll look at the free agent market, and then we’ll analyze the RFA contracts that are coming for both of them,” MacLellan said. “We will make a decision based on all that stuff.”

Capitals’ schedule unveiled

The Capitals will open the 2022-23 regular season at home Oct. 12 against the Boston Bruins. Washington visits the Maple Leafs the next night in Toronto for its first back-to-back. The Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche visits Washington on Nov. 19.

The Capitals’ Stadium Series game is Feb. 18 against the Carolina Hurricanes at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C. It will be Washington’s fourth outdoor game and Carolina’s first.

The season concludes April 13 vs. the New Jersey Devils.