Nicklas Backstrom: 5 Reasons the Caps Center Will Be a Legitimate MVP Contender
Washington's Nicklas Backstrom hasn't received much attention this offseason and is rarely talked about when the question of who the league's best center is arises.
The Capitals have taken a few steps backwards after being the Southeast Division champions, Presidents' Trophy recipients and preseason Stanley Cup favorites.
Much of the Capitals' struggles were blamed on current Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, the lack of scoring from superstar winger Alex Ovechkin and a defense that didn't play to its potential.
The real reason for the Caps' struggles was a cheap head shot that Montreal Canadiens forward Rene Bourque laid out on Nicklas Backstrom, sending the Swede home to recover for several months.
Without question, Backstrom was the team's MVP and it looked like the elite center would cement himself as one of the league's top scorers and finally earn a reputation as being one of the league's very best players.
Barring a lockout, Backstrom is ready to get back on the ice in a matter of months and take the Capitals on his shoulders, finally leading them to the Stanley Cup.
Mike Ribeiro Allieviates Pressure Down the Middle
For the past couple of seasons, it's been Nicklas Backstrom as the bona fide No. 1 center. After that, the talent pool went from Nicklas' deep end to the shallow side.
Addressing their biggest need, the Capitals traded for Dallas Stars center Mike Ribeiro.
Ribeiro brings a strong veteran presence to a still very young team, and with it brings four out of the past five seasons where he has put up 40-50 assists.
For the first time since he broke in with the Capitals, Backstrom won't be looked at as the team's only elite playmaker. With Ribeiro on the ice, there is a proven talent that can provide crisp, timely passes to produce tons of scoring chances.
The Loss of Alexander Semin Puts Pressure to Score on Everyone Else
When you lose a player of Alexander Semin's caliber, other players will be looked upon to pick up the slack and replace the goals that were once provided.
Although his assist totals may suffer, we know that Backstrom has an excellent shot.
In his only 100-point season, the Swedish center potted 33 goals of his own. You've got to believe that without the sniping skills of Semin, Backstrom is going to be less reluctant to fire off more shots than in past seasons.
Normally, losing a player like Semin would be detrimental to any team. However, it is well-known that Semin's point production came in bunches and the Russian would disappear for long stretches, becoming almost invisible on the ice some nights.
Without the by and large lackluster play and effort of Semin, more opportunities will open up for players who give 100 percent every night.
A Healthy Mike Green Increases Point Production for Everyone
It's time for Mike Green to earn his new contract, in both the regular season and the playoffs.
After being nominated for the Norris Trophy for league's best defenseman twice in a row, Green's past two seasons have been disasters. When he wasn't injured, Green was noticeably struggling to find his old scoring touch.
In what could be his first healthy season in quite some time, the Capitals are hoping that Mike Green returns to his old form and has an Erik Karlsson-type season, flirting with a point-per-game pace as a defenseman.
Backstrom and Green more often than not see power-play time together, with the center sending the puck back to the quarterback either setting up a goal by deflection or knock-in.
If Green doesn't see a shot he likes, Backstrom is one of his main options to set up for a goal.
In what was best described as firewagon hockey under Bruce Boudreau, we know exactly how deadly the Capitals' power play is capable of being when the system is opened up and the skill players are allowed to go for the kill.
Adam Oates Can Get the Most from His Centers
A Hall of Fame center who made a career of setting scorers up, new head coach Adam Oates knows exactly what it takes for an elite center to succeed in the NHL.
Honestly, there is no better mentor or role model for Backstrom than Oates.
During and after his time with the legendary scorer Brett Hull, Oates was able to put up multiple 100-point seasons and hit 90 assists in a single season twice. The dynamic duo of Hull and Oates could be recreated in Washington decades later in the form of Backstrom and Ovechkin, who have already proven that they can both put up 100 points playing alongside each other.
Backstrom Was the Capitals' Best Player Last Season
Among skaters who played a full NHL season (considered 78 games or more) last year, seven were able to score at a point-per-game pace.
Before his concussion, Backstrom was one of these players who was definitely on his way to having his second-best, or maybe even perhaps the best, year of his career.
One can only speculate if Nicklas was fully healthy going into the playoffs last season, but after a lengthy offseason following a second-round playoff exit, the center is set for a huge year.
After scoring a very disappointing 65 points in the 2010-11 season, Backstrom rededicated himself to the game and was easily the Capitals' best player for the entire time he was on the ice, and predictably the team struggled mightily without him, only barely making the playoffs after being a postseason shoe-in for the past couple of seasons.