From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2009-10 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2010-11. 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: Backstrom finished fourth in the NHL in scoring.
Interesting Stat: Backstrom led the NHL in road scoring in 2009-10.
The Good: Backstrom just keeps getting better, improving upon his 2008-09 totals in goals, assists, plus-minus, shots on goal, shooting percentage, face-off percentage and time on ice. This past season he became just the fourth player to have a 33-goal/68-assist season in the NHL since 1996-97, and he still hasn't missed a game since coming into the League. He was fourth overall in power-play points (37), even-strength points (64), plus-minus (+37) and three-plus-point games (13, including a pair of five-point efforts), and was the fourth-most valuable skater in the League (by GVT). Though he only won 49.9% of his face-offs overall, that number spiked to 57.6% on the power play, which helped Backstrom to rack up the most points- and primary-assists-per-sixty-minutes at 5-on-4 in the NHL. Nick ranked 16th among NHL forwards with 62 blocked shots (three of which came here and earned him TSN's "No Guts, No Glory" honor), had the third-best +/-ON/60 of any forward in the League at five-aside and, while he didn't spend much time killing penalties, did a (relatively) good job of it when called upon. Backstrom even took 40% fewer minor penalties in 2009-10 than in 2008-09. Finally, Backstrom helped stoke the Caps to a 3-1 first-round series lead over the Habs with nine points in four games (including a four-point effort concluding with a hat-trick goal in overtime of Game 2). Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.
The Bad: It's hard to find too much that didn't go right for Backstrom in 2009-10. His season - like that of the entire team - ended in crash-and-burn fashion, but for Backstrom there's a bit of an explanation: he dislocated his shoulder in Game 3. And while he piled up monster numbers, there's still the perception in some circles that he rode coattails to get there. Oh, and those gaudy numbers will certainly increase the dollars on his new deal. Yeah, we're grasping. We'll stop now.
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: How much, per year, is Backstrom worth? What would you like to see Backstrom improve on in 2010-11? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?