16 April, 2014


Washington Has Its Forsberg

What if he really turns out to be Foppa II? (But with better feet.)

The comparison Nicklas Backstrom has most commonly endured pretty much since he arrived on the acclaimed international prospect scene some five or six years ago has been with his countryman, Peter Forsberg. I confess, I never saw the basis for the comparison — until this past season.

During his first two seasons here I wondered about the young center’s conditioning, his upside as a goal-scorer, the quality of his shot (was it world-class?), his defensive game, and his acumen in the faceoff circle. I’d still like to see him become leaner and meaner in the weight room, but in 2009-10 Nicklas Backstrom fairly obliterated my early concerns. With 33 goals and 101 points he achieved consensus standing not just as one of the best young players in the world but as one of the best players period, of any age.

And what stood out to me the most this past hockey season about Backstrom was the striking resemblance he seemed to achieve with perhaps the best player ever to come out of Sweden. He made elite plays down low, welcoming all comers thick and mean in that space. But also: his identity as an elite playmaker isn’t contingent upon his centering Alexander Ovechkin. He can create scoring — goal-scoring — chances on his own, in very elite fashion. Just like Foppa.

This season I noticed especially a physical dimension added to his game. He seemed to welcome contact while playing the puck, and he seldom seemed to get knocked off the puck anywhere on the ice. His work in corners reminded me very much of Foppa. He appeared to be stronger on his skates today as well, to have a gear that he didn’t as a rookie.

And he’s just 22.

Yesterday’s announced signing is significant beyond its securing the talents of a world-class player for the Caps for the next decade. General Manager George McPhee highlighted what the deal meant to Caps’ fans: “It sends the right message to our fans that this franchise has outstanding young players ready to commit for the rest of their career.”

It sure does. And another such long-term deal will be needed for John Carlson in two years’ time. But Monday was a day to enjoy a first bit of good news in a good-news-challenged offseason.

Three seasons into his NHL career we already know that Nicklas Backstrom is the most gifted centerman ever to wear a Capitals’ sweater, and that should reasonable health follow him over the next 10 years, he’ll enjoy a designation as the most statistically accomplished Caps’ centerman ever. Backstrom will center Alexander Ovechkin through the 2019-20 NHL season, and with that as foundation, the Capitals can dream large.



8 Comments

  1. Sherrie Van Houten wrote:

    Nick Lidstrom is without doubt the greatest Swedish player ever. Forsberg would be in the running for the Number Two competition.
    None of which is meant to put down Backstrom. Congrats to the Caps on locking him up.

    18 May, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink
  2. HannahMontana wrote:

    Backis will be the best player to come out of Sweden! Guaranteed!!!

    18 May, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  3. Hittman wrote:

    Backstrom has a long way to go before he is Foppa or Lidstrom level. First, he needs some individual hardware, as those two are highly decorated. Second, he could use some team hardware, whether it be a gold medal or Stanley Cup. But last, he needs to keep up his phenomenal play for the next ten years. All of these things are a tall order, but it would seem the young Swede is up to the challenge.

    And let’s talk about the length of the contract. In a salary cap market, locking up any player with a consistent level of talent at 2010 dollars for 10 years means that the Caps will eventually win out once the cap is raised over the next decade.

    18 May, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  4. trekronor wrote:

    @Hannahmontanta: You have to be kidding. Better than Borje Salming? Forsberg? Lidstrom? Zetterberg? Loob? Please . . . Backstrom will only live up to this contract if the Caps change their run and gun mentality and develop some smash mouth playoff hockey skills to go along with the finesse of Backstrom – and I (as a season ticket holder) am not optmistic based on the last 2 years of incredibly weak playoff performances (really, the Rangers series was a joke last year going 7 and we went down to the Pens 4 games to 1 after they decided to play hard; and now, the Habs series melt down just eliminated the possibility that this crew is built for the playoffs. They aren’t and the Backstrom signing will not change that.). Where is our Pronger or Boyle on the blue line? Where is our power forward like Byfuglien? We need big fat contracts for physical players like these. I’m waiting.

    18 May, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Permalink
  5. Ralph wrote:

    @TreKronor: How many players have had 55 or more assists in each of their first three NHL seasons? Three. Peter Statsny, Wayne Gretzky, Nicklas Backstrom. Going 30-65 in his 3rd season is also very very good as well (I think there are 11 centers in NHL history with that mark). I think you’re finding it hard to believe that Backstrom could be one of the all-time greats.

    Well, believe it, because he can be. He’s 22 and already the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th best Swedish player in the league. Some would even say 1st. BB has already said Backstrom is a top-5 player; I disagree, but top-5 center and top-10 forward is not a stretch. And he’s 22. He probably has passed Malkin and, while he almost certainly won’t pass Crosby, he’s at the top of the second-tier superstar list, or very close(top-tier being Ovechkin and Crosby).

    And by the way, Chris Pronger is unique (well, maybe Stevens is a comparable). There’s no player like him in the NHL right now.
    Boyle is worse than Green defensively AND offensively too. He can stay in San Jose.
    And what are Knuble, Laich, and Fehr if not guys like Byfuglien? Behind the Net says the stats say the Caps got tons of rebound chances but just couldn’t cash in.

    19 May, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  6. penguin pete wrote:

    @ralph: that silly little 55 assists stat is great. there are sooooooo many guys close to that, but you are right. and that’s what makes it a great stat.

    you should be running a political campaign….

    19 May, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  7. breaklance wrote:

    I remember a story none to long ago comparing Lars to Foppa statistically. While they were similar Foppa had some advantages. Forsberg was a clear cut power forward, Backstrom a clear cut set up man. Backstrom could “out-live” Forsberg statistically especially considering Backy will be playing with someone Forsberg never had, another superstar. Currently there is no doubt in my mind Backstrom is the best Swedish player in the game and top 10 players in the world. Here’s to 10 years of the caps best dynamic duo!

    19 May, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  8. OvieTracker wrote:

    I love Nicky, but until he matches or comes close to achieving what Forsberg accomplished–2 time Stanley Cup champion, 2 time Olympics gold medalist, and 2 time World Champion–he is the second best Swedish player behind Fopps.

    23 May, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

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