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Nylander a father figure in more ways than one

Monday, 11.19.2007 / 9:46 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Michael Nylander, currently in his second stint with the Capitals after stops in Hartford, Calgary, Tampa Bay, Chicago, D.C., Boston and New York, has five goals and 12 assists this season.
Michael Nylander isn’t your typical 24-7 rink rat, not with six kids waiting for their daddy at home.

Camilla, his wife, is Nylander’s linemate in the house while Jacqueline, Michelle, Stephanie, Alexander, William and Danielle are the franchise.

Nylander cooks. He cleans. He takes out the garbage. He helps with homework. He drives to hockey practice. He is, despite his Swedish background and multi-million dollar salary, the typical All-American dad.

“It feels good to come home with lots of people around. I’ve always come home with lots of people around ever since I was a kid,” Nylander, himself one of seven siblings, told NHL.com. “Growing up, there were kids everywhere. I’m just happy my wife had the same feeling I had.”

But when Nylander walks into the rink and laces up his skates, all family affairs are put aside. While he most definitely has his quirks, like staying on the practice ice late just to skate circles and zig-zags with the puck, Nylander is a businessman who wears Reebok apparel to the office.

Nylander, currently in his second stint with the Capitals after stops in Hartford, Calgary, Tampa Bay, Chicago, D.C., Boston and New York, has five goals and 12 assists this season.

“I have one rule, every time you put the skates on work as hard as you can. That’s what we have known about Michael,” Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. “We had the benefit of having him here before, so we know exactly what he’s like and I haven’t come across anyone who is more intense during practice or more prepared to play a game.”

Getting back to Washington, though, required some difficult decision making. It also left one team scrambling for a Plan B.

Nylander reinvented himself with the Rangers in the post-lockout NHL by posting 49 goals, including a career-high 26 last season, and 113 assist playing alongside Jaromir Jagr the last two seasons.

Even so, he entered his summer as an unrestricted free agent with an uncertain status. Would the Rangers appeal to Jagr’s distinct tastes and offer Nylander the four-year deal he was seeking? Or, would they try to get younger and deeper through what was arguably the most talented pool of unrestricted free agent pivots in NHL history?

We all know the route New York chose, signing both Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, and thereby leaving Nylander seeking employment elsewhere. The Swede with seven teammates at home eventually decided D.C. was better suited for his family than Edmonton.

Oilers management was confident Nylander was coming until finding out in an 11th hour decision that he had signed a four-year contract with the Capitals. More than anything, it was really a sleep-on-it decision and Nylander felt remorse for the Oilers situation once the ink was dry.

“You have to take into consideration hockey and what’s best for your family,” Nylander said. “We’ve been in Washington before and we felt that would be the best option. It was a good hockey club, too, and my wife and I made the decision together to come here. We’re really happy.”

The Capitals are tickled, too, because not only is Nylander’s production on the ice key to the young team’s revival, his parenting skills have proven invaluable in helping the NHL’s next great European star migrate into the North American lifestyle.

Nicklas Backstrom basically is Michael Nylander, only 15 years younger and with a heck of a lot less responsibility away from the rink.

Backstrom comes to the NHL from the Swedish Elite League at the ripe age of 19. Nylander had just turned 20 when he debuted with the Hartford Whalers in 1992, one season removed from earning Rookie of the Year honors in Elitserien.

They’re both family oriented, although Nylander clearly comes from a different gene pool than Backstrom, whose lone sibling, Kristoffer, is currently playing in Sweden.

The Capitals are tickled because not only is Nylander’s production on the ice key to the team’s revival, his parenting skills have proven invaluable in helping the NHL’s next great European star migrate into the North American lifestyle.

“I think that’s the perfect phrase,” Hanlon said when hearing the term, “father figure,” in reference to Nylander. “It’s a very positive thing. I don’t think that’s a reference to age. He’s been around and we want that to happen. He can help Nicky through. There are a lot of different things he can draw on with him.”

Nylander, like any father, relishes his role and time with the kid Backstrom, who actually said Nylander is like “his big brother.”

“He’s 35, but he’s like 20 in my mind,” Backstrom said. “He’s funny and he’s very good for me. I can ask him just about anything.”

“Nicklas is a great guy and he fits in perfectly,” Nylander said. “It’s not like he lives with us, but I enjoy it. We enjoy hanging out. He can be there (at Nylander’s house) everyday if he wants.”

“Coming to his house, it’s like coming to paradise,” Backstrom added. “The food. He’s a very good cook.”

“The longer they play the more chemistry they have,” Hanlon said. “They’re from the same hockey backgrounds and I know that helps them.”

The more chemistry they have, the more Nylander feels right at home at the rink.

At least he doesn’t have to put a roof over Backstrom’s head.

Quote of the Day

Unless he really collapses, I don't see him going anywhere. I've been very impressed with his composure and maturity. Once the regular season started, he was a different guy; it was like game on and almost as if he's been around for a long time.

— Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon on rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad
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