There is growing concern about Nicklas Backstrom, the Washington Capitals No. 1 center who got hurt during his NHL lockout stint in Russia and this week went to see a specialist.
Backstrom's injury suffered in the Kontinental Hockey League Dec. 26 was reported as a neck problem. But given that the 25-year-old missed 40 games with a concussion last season and hasn't skated since returning to North America, there's reason to believe that's the injury again.
Alex Ovechkin, who was Backstrom's teammate with Dynamo Moscow and on the ice when the center fell awkwardly into the boards, used the word "dizzy" to describe how Backstrom felt at one point.
"He wants to be in camp and he wants to be around the guys and I think that's what really kills him the most. I think he kind of feels like he's letting the players down, but we know how finicky injuries can be," Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said. "We know that he wants to be here and that's enough now. When he gets healthy we want him back as soon as possible, but [we want] a fully healthy Nicky Backstrom."
Backstrom went to see a specialist in Michigan, the team confirmed Tuesday.
"Nick and his agent informed us that they are being proactive with his injury and decided to visit a specialist prior to training camp," a Caps spokesman said. "Obviously, as you know until camp officially starts teams cannot perform physicals on any player."
Backstrom going to see a specialist was first reported by the popular fan blog Russian Machine Never Breaks.
If Backstrom fails his training camp physical and is unable to play, the Caps have no obligation to pay him any of his pro-rated $6.7 million salary, because he was injured during the lockout.
Brouwer said Backstrom's "a little disappointed at the timing" of the injury. His Caps' teammates are, too, given his value to the team.
"Nicky's one of our go-to guys in the locker room, go-to guys on the ice, he's a leader on our team. We're going to miss him, without a doubt," forward Matt Hendricks said. "We're going to miss the way he plays and the way he produces and things like that. But we're going to do our best to win hockey games without him if he's not going to be around."
General manager George McPhee, who said Tuesday he's prohibited from addressing locked-out players' injuries before the start of camp, traded for No. 2 center Mike Ribeiro last summer. Ribeiro's importance could be ramped up if Backstrom can't start the season Jan. 19.
"I think the hardest position on a hockey team to fill is that second-line center," Brouwer said. "I think his presence out here to be able to slow down the play, control the puck, control the play, he's a lot like Nicky. He can make those good plays, he can step up in big situations and make guys around him a lot better."
Still, there's no replacing someone like Backstrom, who was on a 100-point pace before being concussed Jan. 3, 2012. Rene Bourque was suspended five games for the elbow to Backstrom's head.
Backstrom didn't return until late March.
Backstrom played 19 games in the KHL before the most recent injury, which could hurt the Caps, especially in a shortened NHL regular season.
"I think this team revolves around Nicky Backstrom," Brouwer said. "I think the way he controls the play, controls the puck and when he's out there thinking clearly and making sure he makes smart plays, there aren't many players better than him."
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