From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading the 2008-09 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2009-10. Next up, Nicklas Backstrom.
#19 / Center / Washington Capitals
Nov 23, 1987
$2,400,000 cap hit in 2009-10; RFA after 2009-10 season
Key Stat: Two seasons into his NHL career, Backstrom has yet to miss a game.
Interesting Stat: Backstrom scored goals at a higher rate five-on-four than Alex Ovechkin.
The Good: Backstrom followed up his outstanding rookie campaign with an even more impressive sophomore season, finishing third in the League in assists and tenth in scoring, thanks to eight-goal and eleven-assist improvements over his 2007-08 numbers. He finished third in the NHL in power play points and led the team in takeaways while posting the fourth-best takeaway-to-giveaway ratio among the squad's forwards. Backstrom had his ups and downs in the faceoff circle this season, but ended the campaign winning 58.3% of his draws over the final 18 games. He was second to Alex Semin among the teams forwards in +/-ON/60 at five-on-five, first on the team in GFON/60 and +/-ON/60 at five-on-four (thanks to his team-best five-on-four scoring rate), and first among forwards in GAON/60 and +/-ON/60 at four-on-five.
The Bad: There were concerns about Backstrom's conditioning heading into the season, and the fact that it took him 14 games to register his first even strength point and 15 games to score his first goal of any kind did nothing to ease them (hopefully those days are behind us, as Nick notes, "The best tip Ovie has given me was to take it easy at the bars.") Despite finishing the regular season strong on faceoffs, that success didn't carry over to the playoffs, where he won 49.1% of his draws and just 43.5% in the second round. Backstrom's 46 even strength points were just two more than he had last year, his plus-minus was three better than a season ago, and his goal-scoring at even strength was actually down three to eight, so it's fair to ask whether or not Nick progressed as much as hoped at five-aside. Finally, it should be noted that Backstrom's penalty minute totals nearly doubled - from 24 to 48 - this season, a trend that needs to be halted immediately.
The Vote: Rate Backstrom below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: What would you like to see Backstrom improve on in 2009-10? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?