This afternoon, the Washington Capitals announced that star center Nicklas Backstrom and prospect Alexander Alexeyev both had surgery recently, with both expected to miss significant time. Backstrom had hip resurfacing surgery on Friday in Belgium, Washington confirmed, his recovery process beginning immediately, though a recovery timetable was not given (link). Alexeyev had a surgical labral repair to his left shoulder and is expected to mis four to five months (link).
The news on Backstrom is not surprising, his previous hip issues well documented, and his playing future seemingly uncertain at the conclusion of Washington’s season (link). At that point, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said Backstrom continuing to play with his hip as is was not sustainable and that the veteran forward would be looking at his options. Frank Seravalli of The Daily Faceoff points out that forward Ryan Kesler had the same hip resurfacing surgery that Backstrom had back in 2019 and of course, did not play again after (link). He also points to Ed Jovanovski, who had the same procedure in 2013, taking a full year to rehab, but came back to play 37 games before retiring.
Faced with a lengthy recovery and a checkered history of continued NHL play after having this surgery, Backstrom’s NHL future is up in the air. If Backstrom takes roughly the same year Jovanovski needed for recovery, he would find himself aiming to return at the start of the 2023-24 season, just ahead of his 36th birthday, but still with two years at a $9.2MM AAV remaining on his contract. Speaking of his contract, the injury does provide the Capitals with some flexibility to replace the production they will miss, allowing them to place the veteran on LTIR, adding another $9.2MM in cap space, more than doubling their current figure of just under $9MM of free space. This should add another wrinkle into the offseason, as a still-competitive Capitals team would presumably look to replace that production, jumping into a crowded market of teams looking to add from an also fairly crowded market of talented forwards both in free agency and on the trade block.
Alexeyev’s surgery, unlike Backstrom’s, does provide clarity on his situation and appears to give him a path to return without missing too much time, the four to five months timeline giving a late October or early November return date. The defenseman’s absence shouldn’t be a huge blow to the Capitals immediately, having played just one NHL game back in December. But, for the former first-round pick, who has been excellent in his time with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, he may have had a chance to push for a roster spot with the Capitals out of training camp. Now, the 22-year-old will now have to focus on recovering, likely beginning his season in the AHL.