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Screen Shots: Backstrom's Hockey Future and the HDA's New Grassroots Program

Adam Proteau looks at what the future could look like after Nicklas Backstrom's hip resurfacing surgery and the Hockey Diversity Alliance's latest initiative to get more kids to play hockey.

It’s time for a weekend edition of Screen Shots; as is the norm, we’ll break down a couple of hockey topics for your reading enjoyment. On to it we go:

– The Washington Capitals announced Saturday that star center Nicklas Backstrom underwent “hip resurfacing” surgery and was looking at a “lengthy recovery process”. That does not sound good, either for the on-ice future of the 34-year-old, or the Caps as a competitive unit.

Backstrom’s health woes limited him to only 47 games this past season, and he was not the point-per-game player he’s been for much of his 15-season NHL career, posting just six goals and 31 points. As per Backstrom has three seasons left at a $9.2 million salary cap hit, but if he’s out for the majority of the 2022-23 campaign as many suspect he will be, Washington may well place him on Long-Term Injury Reserve and use that cap space to acquire veteran help to ensure they’ll be a playoff team for the ninth consecutive season.

That cap flexibility may make the Capitals a big player in the unrestricted free agent market – a veteran like Florida Panthers star center Claude Giroux, or Avalanche pivot Nazem Kadri would likely have to listen to any offer made in the $9-million per season area – as well as the trade market. But if they can’t bring in marquee names to fill Backstrom’s spot, the Caps could be in tough to remain a post-season team. They managed only to capture the second and final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference this season, and in the Metropolitan Division, they’re going to be challenged by the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils for a playoff spot this coming year.

Players who’ve had the surgery Backstrom just had – namely, former Ducks star center Ryan Kesler, and former Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski – were not long for hockey’s top league after it was over. Kesler never played again, while Jovanovski appeared in only 37 games. For the short-term, at least, Backstrom’s absence will be felt by Washington, and it may be the catalyst for bigger changes as the franchise starts preparing for a new, non-Alex-Ovechkin-and-Backstrom Era.

– Kudos to the Hockey Diversity Alliance, which announced this week the launch of a ball hockey program for children aged 6-15, as well as plans for an on-ice component in the fall. The initiative began last month in five Toronto community centers where minority groups are prevalent, with the HDA providing equipment free of charge.

“We know from experience that kids of color are often unable to play hockey because of access,” HDA co-founder/chair and former NHLer Akim Aliu said in a statement. “We're removing barriers by bringing hockey to kids in their own neighborhoods, so kids from every kind of background and every circumstance feel welcome in the sport we love.”

If hockey is going to truly be for everyone, the sport needs programs exactly like this one. Kids whose parents haven’t grown up with hockey as part of their culture now will have an outlet for their energy and can learn and grow in an environment where they don’t have to worry about being “The Other” and thus can assimilate into the game on their own terms.

As we’ve seen in recent years, it’s easy to pay lip service to the notion of equal opportunities for non-Caucasian people in hockey, but it’s far more important to lay down legitimate footprints in minority neighborhoods the way the HDA is doing. You may not see the results of a program like this at the NHL level for many years, but it shouldn’t be about producing NHL players. We know the vast majority of participants won’t ascend to the top level of the sport, but the experience of playing alongside people that look and sound like you do doesn’t have a monetary value. It’s about passing along a love for the game, no matter who you are. The HDA deserves credit for supporting that goal.


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