ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom is taking a leave of absence from the team because of what he called an “ongoing injury situation” after a slow start to the season on his artificial left hip.
“I decided to take some time and step away from the game. This is a difficult decision, but one that I feel is right for my health at this time,” Backstrom said in a statement released Wednesday by the Capitals.
He said he needs to “determine my next steps and viable options moving forward.”
Backstrom, Washington’s career leader in assists, had hip resurfacing surgery in the summer of 2022 to address a chronic injury that had bothered him for years. He returned to the team in January, played the remainder of last season and came to training camp insisting he was healthy and good to go.
The Swede, who turns 36 this month, had just one point in eight games so far this season. Washington is 4-3-1 heading into its game Thursday against the visiting New York Islanders.
“We stand behind Nicklas and will support him throughout this process. We know firsthand how hard he has worked and how determined he is to get back to full health,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “Our organization stands fully behind him while he takes his leave of absence from the team and takes time to evaluate his current health situation.”
Backstrom has 271 goals and 762 assists in 1,105 NHL games, all with Washington, which drafted him in the first round in 2006. He and Alex Ovechkin became one of the top forward duos in the league and helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup in 2018.
First-year coach Spencer Carbery said it was difficult to watch Backstrom tell the team he was stepping away.
“You can tell he wants to continue to play and wants to be there for them right now and be battling through, but he just physically can’t right now,” Carbery said. “When you see someone describing that to their brothers, it tugs at your heart of how much it means to him and how much all his teammates mean to him, so it was difficult.”
Backstrom was just the second NHL player to come back from the operation. Winger Patrick Kane is attempting to become the third.
Capitals defenseman John Carlson said of Backstrom: “We’re supporting him, following whatever is going make him happy and however he feels that is going to make his body feel the best, and that’s the decision that he makes.”
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