Since he was drafted fourth overall in 2006, the center of the Washington offense — literally — has been Nicklas Backstrom. The Swedish center has notched 101 goals and 266 assists in his first five NHL seasons, including becoming only the fourth Capital to reach the 100-point plateau. At the end of that 2009-10 campaign, he was rewarded with a 10-year, $67 million contract extension that was designed to keep him alongside two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin through the 2019-20 season.
Ten games into this season, Backstrom is not living up to expectations. He has one goal and seven assists, but just two of those assists have been the primary setup. We have only seen glimpses of Backstrom’s strong neutral-zone play, like when he capitalized on a Guillaume Latendresse turnover at the Washington blue line, ending up in the net on a Troy Brouwer backhand after a two-on-one with Wojtek Wolski. But aside from that he has been largely invisible, especially in the faceoff circle, where he is winning at just a 46.4 percent clip.
Backstrom has typically been a driver of points for his line when he is on the ice, especially on the power play. Last season he had the goal or primary assist on 52.6 percent of the power-play goals scored, and 56.5 percent the season before that. This season he has yet to contribute anything during the man advantage, except for three secondary assists and three shots on goal in 44:12 of power-play time (second most on the team among forwards). In fact, Washington’s power-play unit is generating 39.5 shots per 60 minutes with Backstrom on the ice, but a whopping 48.4 shots when he is on the bench. Small sample size caveats apply, but that’s a complete turnaround from recent years.