Capitals’ Backstrom hopes NHL can crown champion this summer

Nicklas Backstrom
Washington Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom (19) celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Count Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom among the NHL players who would welcome playoff hockey in the middle of summer.

“You obviously want to finish the season with a champion,” Backstrom said Wednesday during a video conference call with reporters. “Whether we play midsummer, you want to do it. You want to have a champion this year, if possible.”

The NHL season has been on pause since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teams have been asked to provide building availability for July and August, but like most other sports leagues, there is little clarity as to when play may actually resume or what it may look like when it does.

For now, Backstrom is enjoying spending more time with his growing family.

On Monday, Backstrom and his fiancee returned home after the birth of their third child, a baby girl named Alizee.

“We’re doing good actually,” he said. “It’s not the ideal situation, but I think you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do. It’s the same situation for everybody and obviously, I think for us here, luckily we’ve got a backyard and the weather’s been pretty nice.”

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Backstrom has been running and riding his bike, and said that staying as active as possible is important for everyone these days to “keep your mind and brain straight.”

Though Backstrom is hopeful that the 2019-20 season will resume with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he said that an organized training camp and a number of exhibition games would need to be in place.

He also suggested that there’s no need for teams outside of a playoff spot to return to play out the string in the regular season.

“No one knows when we are going to return,” he said, “but if that is the best-case scenario, to jump right back into playoffs, then you obviously have to have a couple weeks to get practice before this. I see a lot of guys are practicing on their stickhandling on Instagram and stuff like that, but that is not the same.”

Though Backstrom has experienced lengthy layoffs before — whether from injury or from scheduled breaks like the bye week — the biggest difference here is the unknown. Unlike with those examples, players can’t ramp up their training and prepare for a specific window. Simply put, there’s no target date.

There are also no guarantees. That’s a tough reality for Backstrom and the Capitals’ aging core, who spent much of the season in their familiar perch atop the Metropolitan Division.

With Braden Holtby set to become a free agent at the end of the campaign, this season was always thought to be the Capitals’ final chance to win the Stanley Cup with their franchise goaltender. Now, that chance may never come.

“In case we’re not going to get resumed, it’s obviously tough,” Backstrom said. “We’ll see what’s gonna happen. No one knows what’s gonna happen … I feel like we got a great core group here; it’s been here a long time and hopefully we can keep it the same because we’ve been through it. We won before and you want to do it again.”

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While the drive and motivation remain for Backstrom, he can also put things in perspective. Being in the hospital last week for the delivery of his baby, he said, provided him with a glimpse into the current reality of so many nurses, doctors and medical personnel.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “You see how many new cases of this virus are going up, too. All the nurses, doctors that’s involved in the hospital — I was just at the hospital so I know how good they’re doing and how helpful they were. Without them, this is going to take a lot longer.”

“They’re sacrificing themselves for others, which is probably one of the nicest things that a human being can do. God bless them, and thanks for the help,” Backstrom said.

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