Nicklas Backstrom was on the ice in full gear prior to Thursday's practice working with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish, a sign that he is progressing in his recovery from a hip injury.
"He is going through a progression that hopefully is leading him back to us," head coach Peter Laviolette said.
Backstrom has yet to play or practice with the team this season and is currently on long-term injured reserve. He has been dealing with a hip injury from the end of last season that did not heal over the offseason.
Whenever Backstrom's possible return is discussed, Laviolette has stressed the process. Seeing him skating in full gear is a positive sign that he is taking the next step in that process.
"I would think that at some point you'll see him out with this group, moving around, working into the drills," Laviolette said. "When you get to that point and then from there we'll get into more intense practice where maybe the [non-contact jersey] comes off and he gets some reps under his belt at full speed with light contact and then [see] where he's going to need to play and then whenever that time is when the doctors and Nick and everybody's on the same page and he feels comfortable, we'll move forward from there."
Laviolette also said it was possible Backstrom would travel with the team next week in its trip to Florida for games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. He would not be eligible to play in those games, but Laviolette recognizes the importance for a player to be around the team.
"You talk to guys that rehab and they hate being away from the team," Laviolette said. "You know like they're in their own world. You're not involved in what goes on and the jokes, in the wins, in the losses, in the highs and the lows. You're doing your own thing just trying to get back. At some point, the players, they're itching to get back and be part of that team fun stuff and inside that fun locker room again."
The earliest Backstrom can return is the Nov. 6 game against the Philadelphia Flyers, but it is unclear if he will be ready to return by that point. When he does, it will not just mean getting him back into the lineup, but will also require a number of roster moves in order to get under the salary cap.
With Backstrom on LTIR, the Caps are able to go over the cap ceiling. When he returns to the current roster, that will put the team more than $1.6 million over the cap. That's how much salary the team will need to move to bring him back.
But those are questions the team can answer later. For now, the focus is on getting Backstrom healthy and bringing him back when he is ready.
"If he's ready on the 10th game, then that's great," Laviolette said. "If he's not ready until 12 games, then it'll be 12 games. If it's 15, it's 15. So whatever his progression takes, we're not gonna rush that. The most important thing is when he comes back, we're giving Nick the best opportunity to be ready to go, feel good and help our club and have him feel comfortable with what he's doing."