Oshie would ‘love to play’ 17th year, if back obliges

Oshie would 'love to play' 17th year, if back obliges

ARLINGTON, Va. — T.J. Oshie lingered on the ice long after many of his Washington Capitals teammates departed for the locker room following the loss that eliminated them from the playoffs.

His family was at all four games, including in New York, just in case. They could be the final ones he plays in the NHL.

Oshie, 37, isn’t calling it a career just yet, but the winger acknowledged Tuesday he and doctors must find a solution to his chronic back problems before committing to return for a 17th season.

“I’d love to play next year, but I will need to come back with somewhat of a guarantee that my back won’t be — it’s hard putting everyone through the situation,” Oshie said. “I’d like to find just an answer and a fix to the problem before I make another run at it.”

Oshie’s back and other injuries limited him to 52 of 82 games during the regular season, and he played the series finale against the Rangers with a broken left hand.

“A broken hand is like a hangnail compared to what I go through with my back,” Oshie said, adding he’s often on the floor unable to move when it gives out. “There’s been a lot of just extra things that I have to do to make sure that my back is ready to play an NHL game.”

Already expecting center Nicklas Backstrom to remain on long-term injured in the final year of his contract after stepping away in November because of a nagging hip issue, general manager Brian MacLellan said the team will support Oshie whichever decision he makes and doesn’t have a date by which he’d like an answer.

“If he determines at some point that he feels good, he wants to come back to play, let’s go that way,” MacLellan said. “If he doesn’t, we’ll work it out that way, too.”

Oshie’s presence or lack thereof would certainly affect how the Capitals affect the offseason, whether they can use his $5.75 million salary space or need to fill a major void.

“He’s a big part of our team,” MacLellan said. “You have him, or you go out and find a guy.”

Oshie, who reached the 1,000 games milestone and scored the empty-net goal that clinched a playoff spot, long ago emerged as a popular teammate and fan favorite and was the Capitals’ emotional engine for nearly a decade while playing through injuries.

“He’s a warrior,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “He’s a guy who brings energy on the ice and off the ice. He have so much respect from the coaching staff to the fans and from the players, as well. He’s a guy who brings everything to this group on the ice and off the ice.”

As for Ovechkin, after scoring just eight goals in his first 43 games of the season, the superstar went on a tear down the stretch to finish with 31 before being held without a point in a playoff series for the first time. At 853, he’s 42 away from Wayne Gretzky’s NHL career record, turns 39 in September and has two years remaining on his contract.

“If I make it, it’s good, but it’s still 42 goals,” Ovechkin said. “It’s kind of a long way. But it’s possible if you’re going to be healthy, yeah.”

MacLellan joked about penciling in Ovechkin for 42 next season, knowing full well it’s unfair to expect one of the oldest players in the league to carry Washington offensively. His hope is also to add through trades and free agency to give Ovechkin some help.