Throughout the coming weeks, CSNWashington.com Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley will evaluate the 2014-15 performance of each player on the Caps roster. One breakdown will occur every day in alphabetical order. Today: Nicklas Backstrom
Age: 27 [turns 28 Nov. 23]
Ht/Wt: 6-1, 205
Penalty minutes: 40
Average Ice Time: 20:31
Contract Status: 5 years remaining on a 10-year, $67 million contract [$6.7 million cap hit, $6.5 million salary in 2015-16]
Strengths: Got an hour? From his on-ice work habits and off-ice leadership to his ability to play in every situation and lead the NHL in assists, Backstrom is a coach’s dream. Maybe that’s why Capitals coach Barry Trotz spent much of the season trumpeting Backstrom as an NHL All-Star candidate [he was snubbed for the fifth time], a Selke Trophy finalist [snubbed again] and even an MVP consideration [strike three]. Despite his lack of recognition around the NHL, Backstrom enjoyed one of his strongest seasons in his eighth year in Washington, finishing first in the league in assists  and sixth in points  while improving his plus-minus from a minus-20 to a plus-5. Backstrom was so good in his 5-on-5 play – 45 of his 78 points came at even strength – that Trotz gave him more ice time than any other Caps forward. In fact, this season was the first time in his NHL career that Backstrom logged more ice time [20:31] than Alex Ovechkin [20:19]. The biggest reason, of course, is that Backstrom logged 79:03 of shorthanded time while Ovechkin logged 1:25 on the kill. [Ovechkin made up some of that difference by logging 309:16 on the power play, tops among NHL forwards, to Backstrom’s 254:03.]
Room for improvement: Having a completely healthy hip would be nice. It’s unclear just how much Backstrom’s hip, surgically repaired on Wednesday, affected his play during the playoffs, but his production dropped dramatically in the second round when he started the series against the Rangers with an assist on Joel Ward’s last-second game-winner in Game 1, but didn’t record his next point until assisting on Ovechkin’s goal in Game 7. Backstrom has averaged just shy of a point a game in the regular season [0.99] but his production dips in the playoffs [0.72] and that will need to change if he is to be considered among the top players of his generation.
Memorable Moment: There were many, but Backstrom’s puck-jarring hit on Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle with five seconds remaining in Game 1 against the Rangers set into motion Ovechkin’s crafty centering pass to Joel Ward for the game-winner in the closing seconds at Madison Square Garden. If Backstrom does not accelerate into that hit, that play simply does not happen and the two teams go into overtime.
Quotable: “You just want to be average, you don’t want to stand out. That’s for sure the culture [in Sweden]. You can’t stand out because that’s rude, kind of. That’s why I think a lot of Swedish players are like that. Let’s say you do something good. It doesn’t have to be in hockey or sports, you shouldn’t stand out, you should be normal. That’s how Sweden is. People aren’t jealous of other people.” – Nicklas Backstrom explaining the Swedish saying that no one wants to be the tallest shaft of wheat.
2015-16 Expectations: Backstrom is expected to recover completely from his hip surgery, but his availability for the start of training camp will depend on how well his summer rehab goes. Backstrom averaged just 1.86 shots per game this season and he should work on increasing that average to make him more of a scoring threat, especially on the power play, where teams are willing to shadow Ovechkin.