From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2010-11 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2011-12. Next up, Nicklas Backstrom.
#19 / Center / Washington Capitals
Nov 23, 1987
$6.7m cap hit in 2010-11; UFA after 2019-20 season
Key Stat: In his last dozen playoff games, Backstrom has just two points - a pair of assists in losing efforts this spring.
Interesting Stat: Backstrom was one of three NHL forwards to average 15:45 of even-strengh ice time, 3:15 of power-play time and 1:25 of shorthanded ice time this season (Corey Perry and Anze Kopitar were the other two).
The Good: In 2010-11, most of "The Good" for Nick Backstrom wasn't even "good for Nick Backstrom." He was second on the team in points, assists and power-play points, and tied for the team lead in plus/minus, though each of those numbers was well off his 2009-10 totals.
But dig a little deeper and there were definitely some really strong points in what has to be considered a disappointing season for the still-young Swede. He had a team-high Corsi relative to the quality of his teammates and his 1.19 plus/minus per 60 at five-on-five was good for a spot among the League's top-20 skaters - impressive, considering his unfavorable (and stat-crippling) zone starts (which Backstrom brought upon himself, to an extent, by improving his face-off percentage in each of the last three seasons, from 46.3% to 48.7% to 49.9% to 52.5% this past season) and the fact that he was often the only one on his line making more than a token effort in all three zones. He had the best GAETAN on the team and one could go as far as to make the case that, given the zone starts and similar possession numbers to his 2009-10 season, Nicklas Backstrom was actually better in 2010-11. (We won't go quite that far.)
Finally, while his season totals don't sparkle, he had a fantastic start to the year, amassing 30 points (11 goals) in the campaign's first 26 games - a 94-point 82-game pace. And then there's the fact that he had 10 points - or 15% of his regular season production - against Tampa Bay, leaving him primed to have a big second-round series in the playoffs... or not.
The Bad: Backstrom had career lows in assists and points (and bested his career low in points-per-game by thousandths of a point) and power-play points (down more than 40% from 2009-10) and followed up a 33-goal campaign with just 18, thanks in part to a woeful 7-goal/28-assist drought over the final 52 games of the regular season. Not to pile on regarding Backstrom's goal-scoring struggles, but he scored fewer goals per sixty minutes at five-on-five than Matt Hendricks, had a 21-game stretch without a goal, and didn't score a power-play goal in his last 66 games, including the playoffs. While 2009-10's 33-goal effort is quite probably a once-in-a-career total for the pass-first pivot, Backstrom needs to light the lamp more frequently than he did this past season.
2010-11 also saw injury sideline Backstrom for the first time in his career after a Kris Letang slash broke his thumb in late February, an injury that had ostensibly healed but got re-injured in the first round of the playoffs (a revelation which may have been a surprise to his coach and general manager).
Which brings us to the playoffs. Backstrom struggled mightily to produce even minimal offense in the post-season, as he finished ahead of only the score-less fourth line among the team's forwards in points-per-60 at five-aside, got beaten up pretty badly in the face-off circle and extended his personal playoff goal-less streak to a dozen games (a span over which he's fired 32 unsuccessful shots on goal). "[Expletive] frustrating" indeed.
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: Given his tough 2010-11 season, are you concerned that the Caps are over-committed to Backstrom at 10-years/$67m? What will it take for Backstrom to have a 2011-12 season that more closely resembles his 2009-10 than his 2010-11? How high a priority should it be for the Caps to acquire someone who can (in addition to Boyd Gordon) take some of the defensive-zone heat off of Backstrom? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?