Swedish TV aired a story last night on Nicklas Bäckström. The interview took place at his home in Washington. Nicklas discussed the extremely harsh criticism that he has received from the Swedish press over the last couple of months. He was criticized for turning down a invitation to participate in the World Championship for Sweden last May due to injury.
Niklas Wikegård is one of the more notable talking heads in Sweden. He does what talking heads are paid to do - yap away. The Wikegård quotes in the interview are from early May, but the criticism lingered in the Swedish press all summer long. Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg, who isn't known for speaking up in the press, had this to say about the situation: "Nicklas basically had to play with one hand in the playoffs and still he gets called out in the press in a completely unfair way. In my opinion, he has been treated really badly."
Here's what Bäckström said about playing for Tre Kronor to Expressen earlier this year: "If I'm not injured I will never ever turn down an opportunity to play for the national team. For me it's a great honor to play for the national team and I think Worlds are a fun tournament to take part in. Sure not all of the best players are going to be there but there are still a lot of great players and teams participating. It's always fun to get a chance to represent your country."
Below is my translation of last night's interview.
Niklas Wikegård: "Bäckström is born in 1987, he should jump at the chance to play for Sweden! He should say I would love to come and I will buy my own plane to get there if I have to. Can I please play? I'm coming right now and I don't care if you put me on the fourth line. I will play anywhere.
I would be really disappointed if he doesn't come over to the World Championship. The only reason that he could have for not coming over that is acceptable is something like a broken leg. If he stays at home now, he can stay at home forever as far as I'm concerned."
"They are entitled to their own opinions. Wikegård has never been one to hold back his opinions about anything. But, yeah as I have said all along if I was healthy. If I was healthy and Washington had allowed me, I would have been on the next plane over there. That's what I said then and that's still how I feel. It's kind of sad to be hung out to dry like that because of an injury." Nicklas shrugs. "But everyone is allowed to think what they want. That's how it is in today's society."
Some discussion about signing a big contract and his reduced point production from the previous season.
"Of course I felt some added pressure after signing the contract. Last year I felt like people would look at me differently because I signed a new contract and things like that, and it's nothing strange about that, it's only natural. Hopefully this year I have learned how to deal with that."
Bruce Boudreau: "Nicklas is a great player, one of the best players in the NHL and people put too much emphasis on goals and assists. He killed penalties exclusively, or all the penalties for us last year and we became the second team in the league in penalty killing but no one gives him credit for that."
How important is he to your team?
"He is about as important as it gets. We would be pretty devastated without Nicklas."
Back to Nicklas again:
This is your fifth season in the NHL, have you changed a lot over that time?
"I think I have changed quite a bit. When I first came over here I felt well I guess you can say I felt totally lost. But now it feels like I'm at home over here too. I really like it here and at the same time the time has gone by really fast."
"I guess you can say that I'm a bit of a car freak."
Have you always liked cars?
"Yeah, definitely I always liked toys."
So when did you reward yourself with the Mercedes?
"I think it was during my second year in the league and I bought the sports car last year."
So do you have a hard time keeping the speed limits?
"Yes, I do actually and there are police cars at every street corner in this town. So you have to be a bit careful out there."
Is it hard to grasp that you have a contract that lasts for nine more years?
"Yeah, a little bit but at the same time it's really flattering, and it brings some extra motivation to know that I hopefully will be able to play for the same club for nine more years."
In his fifth season with Washington he looks to have more fun playing than ever before. The fact is that he has never before started out a season so strong before. 18 points in 12 games is a personal best for him.
Do you feel still feel that you are living your dream playing in the NHL or is it more like a normal job for you now?
"I still feel like I'm living my dream and I will always feel that way."
Talking about dreams, how does your dream season look?
"Stanley Cup and hmm..."
And personal goals?
"Hmm let's say 100 points."
What about if took 112 points to win the scoring race?
"If it takes 112 points to win I will take that too."
In the game against the Islanders, Bäckström scored another two points.
"The team has played well and that makes it easier [to rack up points] and I play with good players that make it easy for me out there. But yeah, it has definitely felt pretty good this season and hopefully it will continue to feel that way."
But what have you improved from last season?
"Oh, I don't think I have improved anything in particular, it has more to do with the pucks bouncing the right way this season and things like that. I really don't think I'm that much better than I was last year."