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2014-15 Rink Wrap: Nicklas Backstrom

From Alzner to Wilson, we're taking a look at and grading the 2014-15 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2015-16. Next up, Nicklas Backstrom.

Clyde Caplan

Japers' Rink Player Card (click for a hi-res version, and a glossary of terms used in this post can be found here; data via NHL.comwar-on-ice.comGeneral Fanager and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com):

Backstrom card

Backstrom linemates

Backstrom Usage

Backstrom's Career Rolling Shot-Attempt (Corsi) -For Percentage:

Backstrom Rolling CF%
Backstrom's HERO Chart (via Own The Puck):
Backstrom HERO
Backstrom's Past Eight Seasons (via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com; click to enlarge):
Backstrom HA

Key Stat: 30 of Backstrom's 60 assists on the season came at even strength, his highest total in that department since 2009-10 (and just another reason why both he and Alex Ovechkin finished with much nicer-looking plus-minus totals this year). 

Interesting Stat: Backstrom won 99 of the 140 faceoffs he took in home playoff games this year for a win percentage of 70.7% - an impressive mark which still leads the League.

The Good: On the surface, it may look like this was just another solid season from the uber-consistent Backstrom, as he fell just one point shy of matching last season's total with 78 points. But when considered in context, it's much more than that - in fact, it was one of his best seasons to date.

For starters, it was the fourth time in his career that he finished with at least 60 assists and 78 points - a feat which only Henrik Sedin has accomplished as many times over that span. And to put up that many points in general was no easy feat this year, with scoring down across the League; it was actually the first time in Backstrom's careeer (and the first time since 2003-04) that no one in the NHL cracked the 100-point mark by the end of the season. Over the course of the year, Backstrom's production had him keeping pace with - and at one point, leading - some of the League's most prolific scorers; by season's end, he led the NHL with 60 assists, and finished just nine points shy of Jamie Benn's eventual Art Ross Trophy-winning total, effectively (and finally) putting himself into the conversation as one of the game's elite players.

A big reason for that was a vast improvement by Backstrom (and his team as a whole) in even-strength production. 45 of his 78 points were scored at even strength (40 at five-on-five), his highest total in that department since 2009-10, and he led the Caps in five-on-five assists, points, assists-per-60, points-per-60, and Corsi-For percentage. Consistent as ever, not once over the course of the regular season did he go more than three games without registering at least a point, He also led the Caps in faceoff win percentage with 53.6%, a career high (and an area of improvement that carried over into the postseason, where he registered wins in 58.5% of his draws overall).

Oh, and somewhere along the way he picked up his 400th-career assist, and wrote himself into the franchise history books as the best Capitals' playmaker ever... at the age of 27. Ho hum.

The Bad: There's not a whole lot one can find to nitpick about Nicklas Backstrom's 2014-15 regular season. For a while it looked as if he was going to set a new personal "best" in penalty minutes when he racked up 38 before the end of January... but then he took just one minor penalty in the 40+ games from January 28 to the end of the year, so that wasn't it.

He did only manage 153 shots on goal, tying a career low that he set back in his rookie season of 2007-08. Backstrom's not the goal-scorer on his line most nights, but he does have a sneaky-good shot that he doesn't use often enough, and it's part of the reason why he's only hit the 20-goal mark twice in his career (and not once since 2009-10). That said, his shooting percentage jumped up to 11.8% this year, his best in four seasons, and he tied last year's goal total on 43 shots, so perhaps that's not it. There's just not much about his regular-season performance that is worthy of criticism...

...which brings us to the postseason.

Since 2010-11, Backstrom's scoring pace has veered way off of his typical point-per-game consistency once the playoffs rolled around - even considering the tighter checking, lower scoring nature of the postseason. This year it seemed like he might have finally bucked that trend as he jumped out of the gate with six points - and timely ones, at that - in the Caps' first four playoff games. After his hot start, though, the numbers didn't just drop off a bit... they fell off a bloody cliff.

Over the final ten games, Backstrom managed just two points, effectively shut down by both New York teams during that span. Credit goes to the Islanders and Rangers defense, as well as the goalies, but it's worth noting that in those first four games Backstrom registered 12 shots on goal - which equals the total he put up over the last ten.

The Video:

The Comic:

NB99 ASG Snub - Backwards Slapshot

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: Point totals aside, where does this regular season's performance rank for you over Backstrom's eight seasons in the NHL? On the flip side, how much does his continued lack of postseason production concern you? Do you see it as being on Backstrom, or is it just a product of the way playoff scoring has trended in recent years (or both)? What would it take for you to give him a "10" next year?

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