ARLINGTON, Va. — Nicklas Backstrom gutted through a hip injury that caused him to miss the first two months of the season, and Tom Wilson as hard as he tried couldn’t do the same in the playoffs on a bad knee.
Now it’s possible neither is on the ice when the puck drops next season.
The Washington Capitals could be in for a long summer that bleeds into fall given the uncertainty surrounding Backstrom, Wilson and winger Carl Hagelin, who hopes to play hockey again after a scary incident almost cost him his left eye. Wilson could be headed for surgery for what he called a pretty significant knee injury, and Backstrom’s future is in doubt with a big decision looming.
“The best thing I want to do is play hockey, and that’s my life,” Backstrom said. “Obviously I want to be back. I want to be back to normal, not worrying about this. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Asked if it was possible Backstrom’s career was in jeopardy, general manager Brian MacLellan did not directly answer and said: “I think he’s going to explore all options here. He wants it to be better. He wants to be more physically comfortable when he plays, so he’s going to explore it.”
Backstrom missed the first two months of the season rehabbing his left hip, which he had surgery on in 2015 and acknowledges will never be fully healthy. MacLellan said it was not sustainable for the 34-year-old center to continue playing as he has since December.
Wilson missed almost all of Washington’s first-round series against Florida after tweaking his left knee avoiding a hit in Game 1 on May 3. He skated a couple of times in the hopes of returning, but that was never a realistic possibility given the damage.
“My summer sucks now,” said Wilson, who also was concussed in December. “It’s going to be a grind for me. I’ve got to start my recovery. As an athlete it’s always nice to have goals and a clear mindset of what you need to do, and we’re getting there with the doctors and stuff and we’ll go from there.”
Captain Alex Ovechkin said he’s flying home to Moscow on Monday and won’t need surgery on his banged-up left shoulder. He missed the final three games of the regular season before returning for the start of the playoffs and putting up a goal and five assists.
“We did some things to help it out, and I was fine,” Ovechkin said. “But in the playoffs I don’t think it matters. If it hurts, you have some injections to do and you have some magic pills.”
Winger T.J. Oshie needed plenty of treatment to play through a litany of injuries, including a broken right foot early in the season and a bad back that flared up. He was still Washington’s leading scorer in the Panthers series with seven points on six goals and an assist.
“This year was pretty tough for me,” Oshie said. “But if anyone’s 100% healthy after six games in a playoff series, you probably weren’t playing hard enough, so I imagine everyone’s got something going on.”
Hagelin has been out since taking a teammate’s errant stick to his left eye in practice March 1, rupturing the choroid so badly doctors considered removing it. The 33-year-old Swede had two surgeries and is more optimistic now than two months ago about playing next season, even though his vision will never be 100% again.
“It’s still some depth perception stuff and obviously looking down and looking up,” said Hagelin, who has skated a few times in recent weeks. “It’s sometimes hard to kind of get that focus in right away, so that’s still a work in progress. It’ll be a lot of eye training this summer, and I’m up for the challenge.”
The status of Backstrom, Wilson and Hagelin affects what the Capitals will try to do this summer after a fourth consecutive first-round exit since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Coach Peter Laviolette, who’s going into the final year of his contract with MacLellan unwilling to address the possibility of an extension, would like to find room at center for 21-year-old Connor McMichael, and figuring out the goaltending situation is first up on the offseason checklist.
“We’ve lost in the first round the last four years,” MacLellan said. “We’re going to explore changes. I don’t think anything is off the table.”