Being a sports fan usually comes with a healthy - or unhealthy - dose of pessimism... so every once in a while, it might be good to step back and try to find the good in an otherwise bad situation. On that note, introducing a new semi-regular feature that aims to find the silver lining in even the worst situations!
The Problem: Nicklas Backstrom missed all of training camp and is now on long-term injured reserve with a nagging hip injury, causing him to miss at least the first ten games of the season.
Yeah, this one isn’t great. 33-year-old Backstrom (who is just a month shy of his 34th birthday) is one of the Caps best players and a key member of the leadership group. He was definitely slowed by this injury during last year’s brief playoff run - and the reality is that it’s likely something Backstrom’s been dealing with since he underwent surgery on his hip back in 2015. That’s not ideal.
However... there is a silver lining to this sad Swedish cloud.
For starters, the hockey season is long. It’s a grind. Just getting through the 82-game slate in one piece is a tall task for even the youngest most able-bodied hockey players. So the fact that Backstrom is sitting out for about an eighth of the season may actually work in his favor - those ten games he watches from the press box are ten fewer games on the odometer by the time the playoffs roll around, which (provided he uses this time to fully heal and recuperate) could mean that he’s got a little more jump in his legs in the postseason.
...and maybe allows him to have breakfast over at Ovechkin’s house more often, too.
So that’s the long-term upside... what about the short-term? Well, as we’ve already seen, his absence opens the door for a couple of youngsters to step in and show what they can do. There’s no way that both Hendrix Lapierre and Connor McMichael would still be in DC - which means we would have missed out on one of the great first-goal celebrations of all time - if Backstrom weren’t taking some time off.
We’ve talked about this new youth movement in DC - as the core of the team continues to age, it’s important to make sure that the future is in good hands, and so far it seems like it could be.
Backstrom’s absence may also have the added effect of putting some pressure on Kuznetsov to play better - with Backstrom out, he’s the go-to option for those top-line minutes (and the top offensive opportunities that come with them). Perhaps that added pressure has given and will continue to give Kuznetsov a little extra motivation to keep the energy up, shoulder the added responsibility and help lead the team until Backstrom returns.
Granted, no one likes the fact that Backstrom can’t play at the moment. He is not only an important member of the team but also widely beloved - and the Caps are a better team when he’s in the lineup. But with plenty of season left, Backstrom can use the extra rest... and in the meantime, getting more out of Kuznetsov, and getting a sneak peek at the future, are decent consolation prizes.