The back is open to surgery, an optimist can return to the capitals

Arlington, Virginia – “I’ll start by saying I don’t feel any pain.” That was the first thing Washington Capitals forward Niklas Backstrom said at training camp on Thursday. With wide eyes on media day, he’s standing on the podium with a smile as he no longer feels the burden from the chronic pain he’s felt for years until he underwent hip surgery in June.

It wasn’t an easy decision for the 34-year-old, who didn’t — and still doesn’t want — to see his NHL career come to an end. The action comes with risks and has ended the careers of some players, including Ryan Kesler, and it took some time to reflect on No. 19.

In 2015, Backstrom suffered a groin injury and underwent surgery. Since then, he suffers from chronic pain in his left hip. Although he’s played through it, his hip has been hit hard by the skating and the intensity that comes with every season and age.

The 34-year-old missed the 2021-22 start when he rehabilitated his hip joint, which started to bother him again before camp. He came back in mid-December, and although he was better than he was, he felt like he was starting to slip again over the course of the season, collecting 36 points in 47 games and six points in six playoffs.

“I came back and felt good in a couple of games, but then I started doing the same thing,” Backstrom said. “I don’t know. After a few years, what I went through last year… mentally, it’s hard to live this way.”

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And according to Backstrom, his hip problems have resurfaced only two games a season, and he’s starting to hurt big time. It got to the point where he couldn’t tie his shoes or skates painlessly, and he had no options.

“I think I tried everything else to make it better,” he explained. “But at the same time, that kind of admirable, last resort: an unproven technique for the sport. I think that’s the biggest thing, but I had to do it because I had no other choice. Either that, or I’m going to skate on one leg again.”

“Something had to change. I had this in the back of my head that this was an option, so here we go.”

So, after talking to Andy Murray and others about the procedure, he finally made the difficult decision to have the surgery in Belgium. Since then, he knows he made the right decision – and finally feels free.

“It changed my life in everyday life,” Backstrom said. “Just to put my socks on, tie my shoes, things like that, play with my kids. I couldn’t do that either. It helped me a lot functionally, and I’m happy with that. That part, I feel great. Now that’s just the next step to get me back on the ice” .

Backstrom was around the MedStar Capitals Iceplex and did a job off the ice and make progress there. He’s been on the bike and doing other cardio but hasn’t gone back to running yet. And while he wore skates on Wednesday for a photo shoot, he didn’t make any strides (though he was tempted).

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He’s doing everything in his power to come back this season – and he’s confident he didn’t play his last game. So far, there are no plans to hang skates.

“I am very optimistic that I will be playing before the end of the season,” Backstrom said. “We should check two chests first [before I get back on the ice]. It’s all about getting the leg strong again and making sure it returns to normal function.

“Want to finish [your career] On your own terms, not because of an injury and you feel like you’re playing through things you don’t want.” “That was a huge part of [the surgery]. I’m optimistic I will do that now.”

Overall, though, he’s happy again and isn’t suffering anymore. When asked if he was in a better place than last year, he smiled and answered quickly.

“One hundred percent,” he said before turning away.

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