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Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom undergoes surgery on troublesome left hip

After weeks of consulting with specialists and professional athletes who’ve battled a similar injury, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom had his problematic left hip resurfaced in Belgium on Friday.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Koen De Smet at the ANCA Clinic. Dr. De Smet is a renowned orthopedic surgeon specializing in hip resurfacing.

The Caps did not provide a timetable for Backstrom’s return, though the team announced on Twitter that the 34-year-old faces a “lengthy recovery process” and that he’ll begin his rehabilitation process immediately. 

What does the procedure mean for Backstrom’s short- and long-term outlook? It’s too soon to know. His intention is to continue his playing career and, if all goes according to plan, potentially suit up at some point next season. 

That, however, is not a given. Ed Jovanovski was able to come back and play for Florida in 2013-14 after having his hip resurfaced. He appeared in 37 games that season but did not play again. Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler had his right hip resurfaced followed the 2018-19 season and his left one done in 2020 but did not play again. 

Like Backstrom’s prognosis, the path forward for the Caps is complicated, too. The franchise’s all-time leader in assists has three years remaining on a contract that carries an annual cap hit of $9.2 million. If Backstrom is placed on long-term injury to start next season, as was the case last year, the Caps will have significant salary-cap flexibility. Once he’s ready to return, though, the team will need to clear enough space to accommodate his cap hit. 

If he is unable to play at all, that’s another conversation. But right now — just over three weeks from the start of free agency — Backstrom’s timeline remains unclear, muddying the Caps’ cap picture, which I explained in detail earlier this month.

The road Backstrom faces is an arduous and uncertain one. But he did not choose the path without doing his homework. 

On May 15, or two days after the Caps were eliminated in the first round by the Panthers, Backstrom painted a bleak picture when asked about his future, telling reporters, “The hip’s not going to be 100 percent. That’s something we all know. Some days are good. Some days are less good. That’s just life.”

General Manager Brian MacLellan sounded equally as concerned that day, acknowledging that going through another season in the same manner was not feasible for the player or the team. Backstrom missed the first two months of the 2021-22 campaign while rehabbing the hip, then played 47 of the final 53 regular-season games and all six playoff contests, though he clearly was playing hurt, particularly at the end.

“It was hard for him to play,” MacLellan said. 

Since then, Backstrom, with the guidance of Caps head athletic trainer Jason Serbus, consulted with numerous hip specialists, often via video conference. He’s also spoken to several pro athletes, including hockey players in his native Sweden, who had their hip resurfaced by Dr. De Smet and returned to ice. Those conversations, according to a team official, convinced Backstrom to go ahead with the surgery — his second on his left hip since 2015. 

The internal hope is that medical advances and improvements to the procedure will help Backstrom get healthy and return to the ice. According to the clinic’s website, Dr. De Smet has performed over 5,500 resurfacing surgeries and that the surgery makes “a higher level of activity possible (also impact sports)” when compared to a total hip replacement. 

ANCA’s website calls the procedure “metal on metal resurfacing” and says the prosthesis tolerates impact sports very well. 

“We see from our results that approximately 80 percent of resurfacing patients can perform impact sports,” the website reads. 

The plan is for Backstrom to remain in Belgium for the next several weeks before traveling to Sweden to continue his rehab. The longtime alternate captain is expected to return to D.C. toward the end of the summer.

Prospect Alex Alexeyev has surgery, too

Alex Alexeyev, the Caps’ 2018 first-round draft pick, underwent surgery on his left shoulder and will miss four to five months, the team announced. Before the surgery, the left-shot defenseman was expected to compete in training camp with 2016 first-rounder Lucas Johansen for a spot on Washington’s blue line next season.

(Photo of Nicklas Backstrom: Geoff Burke / USA Today)

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