Capitals Player Report Card: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom

Stats: 77 GP, 18 Goals, 47 Assists, 65 Points, +24, 40 PIM
Contract Info: $6,700,000 mil cap hit, signed through 2019-20
Player Card

Scoring Chance Percentage Ranking: 5/29
Forwards: 4/19
Balanced Corsi Ranking: 1/29
Forwards: 1/19

The past couple of seasons, Nicklas Backstorm has slowly established himself as one of the elite centers in the NHL and his 101-point campaign in 2009-10 seemed to solidify himself as one and he was awarded with a 10-year contract extension worth $6.7 mil per year. This year, a notable regression seemed to happen….and that’s speaking lightly. Backstrom recorded his lowest goal total since his rookie season and his lowest assist and point totals in his career. Not the season want to have after signing such a huge contract. What caused such a huge decline for him? He probably isn’t going to hit 101 points again but I find it hard to believe that he has peaked at 23 years old. There’s too much talent there and we’ve seen that he is capable of so much more than what we saw this year. There were definitely some other things going on that weren’t exactly his fault, so I think a solid bounce-back season is possible for him.

I’ve already made it clear that this was a bad year offensively for Backstrom so there’s no need to go into detail about that. You can view the player cards for yourselves. However, something I do want to point out was that Backstrom’s play at the other end of the ice was something that really improved this year. He had 73 takeaways this year and was used considerably more on the PK than last year. He was also on ice for less shots allowed per 60 minutes this year than previous years and even less goals (only 1.80 G/60). Backstrom also managed to blow away most of his teammates in both the corsi and scoring chances (though that might have to do with him playing on the first line) despite having a down year offensively.

One reason for Backstrom’s decreased production could be that he was used in more of a defensive role this season. He is a very good two-way center and one of the team’s best face-off guys, which is why he had more defensive zone starts this season than previous years (51.0 OZ% this season compared to 58% last year). He saw weaker competition but he was clearly being used in more defensive situations because him and Boyd Gordon (and David Steckel if you want to get technical) were the best centers on the team when it came to face-offs, thus making Bruce Boudreau use them in those roles. Backstrom led the team in balanced corsi because he took so many defensive zone draws and outplayed his competition while doing so. This is why I believe he will rebound. Granted, some of his playmaking skills seemed missing this season and he (along with nearly everyone else) struggled on the powerplay but I still stand by this statement. I have proposed this a few times but I think the Caps acquiring a defensive center or a face-off specialist this off-season and using him like the Canucks do with Manny Malhotra is important. We could possibly do that with some players on the roster right now (Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon) but we don’t know if those two will be on the roster next season so we should look at our options in free agency. The Sedins and Ryan Kesler had career seasons after the Canucks acquired Malhotra and had him take over 70% of the team’s defensive zone draws, allowing them to use the Sedins and Kesler in more offensive situations. There’s no reason not to try something like this to see if it works with Backstrom (and Ovechkin).

Tough for me to grade Backstrom’s season seeing how he is one of my favorite players in the league but I can not deny this was a disappointing season for him..but his good defensive play and good underlying numbers make this season not a total waste for him. However, this was the first season where he had to miss any games and had a terrible playoffs (o goals, 2 assists in 9 games) where he was playing with an injured hand so I can’t give him anything higher than a C here. No need to panic about him declining yet, though because as I said earlier, he is only 23. If he has another year or two with under 20 goals and 70 points, then I would start to panic.

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