As I wrote about a little more than two weeks ago, Nicklas Bäckström was scheduled for and underwent hip surgery. He has now recovered well enough from the surgery to fly home to Sweden for the summer. He spoke about his hip injury and the long rehab that lies ahead for the first time when he sat down with Erik Illerhag from his hometown paper Gefle Dagblad earlier this week, although the article wasn’t published until Sunday. My translation is below.
He’s walking with a slight limp over the parking lot in front of the arena that is named after him, NickBack Arena. After just recently returning from the US, the first thing on the docket is to award a scholarship to Fredrik Wieser and Amanda Wärjö from his old school Sofiedal. (Ed.Note: Bäckström has given out scholarships in his name to two talented young athletes per year since 2010.)
The question is what’s bigger, to be rewarded for their school work and success in their sport, or to meet Nicklas Bäckström?
Fredrik Wieser, a 15 year old that plays for Valbo, Bäckström’s old club, wiggles around a bit and looks to be taken by the moment. Amanda Wärsjö, a 16 year old floor hockey player, says that she at least knows who Bäckis is.
They talk for awhile and after that we sit down on the stairs to the arena for a chat. Nicklas Bäckström can look back at another NHL season and it is easy to forget that he is still just 27 years old when you look at everything he has done so far.
This winter he passed the 500 point mark and was the NHL assist leader. He can now say that he is the all time assist leader for the Washington Capitals.
“Time flies. I’ve been over there for eight seasons now and it feels like I arrived yesterday. It’s fun to be part of the team’s history, but to me it’s just more of a bonus. I haven’t exactly been skating around thinking ”now I will break this record”. As long as I haven’t won the Stanley Cup yet I can’t be satisfied,” he says calmly.
Is it frustrating?
“Yes, it’s a little bit frustrating. It’s an incredibly tough road to get there, but with a little bit of luck it can be done. The margins are so small and there’s a bigger difference between the teams in Sweden than there is in the NHL. The last couple of years, Chicago and LA have been dominant. They have a hell of a mentality in their teams and they have tons of experience. I think that really makes a big difference.”
How often do you think about the Stanley Cup?
“I’m not thinking about it every day but there is just one goal in my head and that’s winning the Stanley Cup.”
This year Washington reached the second round before they were bounced in game seven, and that is despite leading the series 3-1 at one point.
“It was really rough. You were left with a feeling of complete emptiness and just couldn’t believe what had happened. We thought we had a team that could go far and we were in a good position to win game five in OT. But then we lost the game, and after that we lost two more.”
It was the third time in four years that Washington lost in a game seven to the Rangers, and the team has strangely enough not made it past the second round of the playoffs in the Alexander Ovechkin/Nicklas Bäckström era.
Their contracts last to 2020 and 2021, respectively, and they will most likely continue to produce points for many more years. But Barry Trotz, the coach that took over this past year, will probably try to find a steady third player for their line.
“It really varied over the year. I think we had nine different players next to us this season. But I don’t think it’s that easy for the people that get paired with us either. Maybe next year they will have to flip a coin to decide who will get to play there,” Bäckis said, laughing.
Trotz did tighten up the defense, and that makes Nicklas Bäckström hopeful.
“We have had issues with our defense before and we have been pretty easy to read as a team because of that. But this year it was much improved.”
As per usual this time of year things are pretty turbulent.
“I think it’s about 10 players that are without a contract at the moment, so it’s hard to say how things will look next season. That’s the hard part with having a cap, not being able to fit everyone under the ceiling.”
Nicklas Bäckström played all 82 regular season games, but was still forced to undergo hip surgery after the season ended, a procedure that took place two weeks ago. As usual in the hockey world, they try to keep injuries and surgeries a secret, but it’s clear that Bäckström’s summer will be filled with rehab training in the gym.
“I’ve been in pain since sometime in November so we had to fix it. It’s hard to say how long it will take for me to come back. It varies from individual to individual, but five months is a time frame I have heard. Right now my main focus is to get back the mobility in my hip again.”
You have been able to avoid injuries for the most part so far in your career, right?
“Yes, it’s been alright, I think. I have a pretty kind style of playing and spend a lot time in middle of the ice as a center.”
Nicklas Bäckström will be spending the summer in his house just outside of Gävle, with girlfriend Liza and their one year and eight months old daughter Haley.
Does she understand what her dad is doing?
“Yes, she says hockey to daddy so at least she understands that I play hockey. She is usually just around for the afternoon games, since the other games end too late for her.”
When Nicklas Bäckström goes back to the team in September, Brynäs D-man Christian Djoos will probably already be in town trying to make the team. Bäckis thinks and hopes that he will succeed.
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