Nicklas Backstrom’s return to play, as seen by Ed Jovanovski

Ed Jovanovski has also traversed the long path that has traveled Nicklas Backstrom in his recovery. He is the only one to really understand the next steps that the center of the Washington Capitals will take.

Backstrom will make only the second return from hip resurfacing surgery in league history in the coming days. That could happen as early as tomorrow, when the Capitals host the Nashville Predators at Capital One Arena (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, BSSO, ESPN+, SN NOW). Jovanovski, who played 1,128 games in 18 NHL seasons with the Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes, was the first to return to the league following such an intervention on 4 January 2014.

“He had quite a career,” Jovanovski commented of Backstrom. « I think for a player like him to come back to a situation where the pain is gone, who knows what he’ll be able to accomplish for the rest of his career? »

Backstrom’s story, almost nine years later to the day, has several points in common with that of Jovanovski.

As was the case for Backstrom, simple actions like tying his shoes or playing with his children became difficult due to the pain. Jovanovski did everything to avoid surgery, including cortisone injections and a week-long stint in Dusseldorf, Germany, with Dr. Peter Wehling. The latter is an orthopedic surgeon who notably helped prolong the careers of former NFL player Ray Lewis and former NBA player Kobe Bryant with stem cell treatment.

But none of that worked out by Jovanovski.

« I could spend up to three hours on the therapist’s table getting ready for a game or practice, » said Jovanovski, now a Panthers game studio analyst. “It made me hate going to the arena. You know every time it will be painful. I was at the end of my career. After 1100 games, I said to myself  »what am I doing? »

« But there’s something inside you that tells you not to stop playing. »

Backstrom hinted at a « last resort » when talking about the resurfacing surgery he would undergo after more than two years of constant pain. The 35-year-old had arthroscopic surgery on his left hip in 2015 and reportedly wanted to avoid a second procedure when his hip started to bother him again towards the end of the 2020-21 season.

Backstrom had to miss the first 28 games of the last regular schedule because of this problem. He had 31 points (six goals, 25 assists) in his return to the season, then six more in the playoffs. The pain persisted and made clear the need for another operation.

« I had to do it because I had no other choice, » Backstrom said. That was it or I was skating on one leg again. »

Now that he has surgery, Backstrom will try to regain his former efficiency. However, a few question marks remain, including his resistance to checks.

“It’s an aspect of the game that you can never really practice, you can only experience it in a real game situation. But so far I’ve taken a few bumps and haven’t had any issues,” Backstrom said.

With Backstrom’s first game of the season just days away, Jovanovski simply advises him to enjoy the moment.

“It just takes a few shifts to get back into the rhythm, but whatever it is, you have to have fun. Quickly, we no longer think about the pain, ”concludes Jovanovski.

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