Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom under went partial hip replacement surgery in Belgium on June 18 and his rehabilitation timeline will be “lengthy”. Backstrom is an elite playmaking pivot with almost a point per game for his career. Replacing him will not be easy.
Expect the Capitals to be aggressive in trying to fill the void left by the 15-year veteran. Washington will be targeting a few available centers in free agency and via trade option. Two unrestricted free agents to watch are Colorado’s Nazem Kadri and Carolina’s Vincent Trocheck. The 31-year-old Kadri had a breakout season with 87 points in 71 games and has continued his great play in the postseason with his team one win away from a Stanley Cup. Trocheck will turn 29 in July and registered 21-30-51 in 81 regular season games and scored six goals in the playoffs for Carolina. Both will most certainly be seeking at least four to five-year deals on the open market.
Two other centers that may peak the interest of the Caps are New York Rangers’ centermen Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome. Both are considered solid bottom-six type forwards and each player’s market value is at an all-time high. Copp had 18 points in 16 games with New York after being acquired at the trade deadline. Strome scored 20 goals for the first time in his career.
On the trade front, the most intriguing center might be JT Miller of the Vancouver Canucks. Miller had a terrific season with a career-high 99 points. The 29-year-old is entering the last season of his contract that has a cap hit of $5.25 million. The Capitals currently have a little of $10 million in cap space but can gain space by placing Backstrom on Long Term Injured Reserve. Miller might be the best fit for the Caps when trying to find a top-six center.
The other center to watch in trade scenarios is Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Winnipeg Jets. The 23-year-old becomes a restricted free-agent on July 13 with arbitration rights. The Jets might elect to trade Dubois if they feel a long-term deal can not be reached. The third overall pick in 2016 has already advised the team of his intentions to test free agency in two years. The Capitals might be a good fit for Dubois who registered 28-32-60 in 81 games last season.
The news on Backstrom was difficult for the Capitals’ organization to swallow but there might be some options to fill the need at center going forward and keep Washington among the top contenders in the Metropolitan Division.