Things first appeared gloomy for the Detroit Red Wings ever since team insider Ansar Khan of MLive.com reported that a debilitating back issue could force star forward and captain Henrik Zetterberg out of the team’s lineup and that it’s very likely Zetterberg has played his last game in the National Hockey League.
They just got real, now that Zetterberg has annonced that he will not be present at the start of the training camp or for the beginning of the season. According to Chris Johnston of Sportnet, the Red Wings captain has revealed "that his back issues will force him to miss Red Wings training camp and the start of the season: "I have not been able to train and I can not play NHL matches without being well prepared, especially not at my age."
The departure of Zetterberg will be devastating for such a young team in transition. Zetterberg is not only a point producer, he’s also a leader on and off the ice and the most veteran player on the team. He’s the Red Wings’ captain and has bled red and white for 15 seasons.
There is no word on how long Zetterberg could be out, and if he will return at all next season. If Zetterberg retire from the game with a remarkable 337 goals and 960 points in 1082 career regular season games, with an additional 57 goals and 120 points in 137 career playoff games. He’s a Stanley Cup champion and a member of the Triple Gold club, winning not only a Cup, but also an IIHF World Championship gold medal and Olympic gold medal. He was a fierce competitor and never backed down from a challenge. He was one of his generation’s greatest playoff performers, as evidenced by his dominating performance in 2008 that resulted not only in a Stanley Cup championship, but also MVP honours and a Conn Smythe Trophy victory.
Craig Custance of The Athletic recently examined options for the Wings if indeed Zetterberg’s ailing back sidelines him for the entire season. The Wings will get some some much-needed salary-cap flexibility if the captain and his $6.083-million cap hit get placed on long-term injured reserve to start the season.
In his latest article on the subject, Custance looked at different scenarios for the Wings and determined that if Detroit falls out of playoff contention, the Wings could use that cap space to take back salary from contending clubs while moving players at the trade deadline. One example pops out as the Wings could choose to make a monster move and trade pending free-agent winger Gustav Nyquist ($4.75 million) while informing the interested team that they can absorb up to half of his cap hit to make him more attractive in the trade market.
“Trade would be one solution,” a Red Wings source told Custance.
If we go a step further and that, in the end, Zetterberg’s bad back brings his playing career to an end, Detroit could look at moving his contract next summer in a cost-cutting move, like we saw the Chicago Blackhawks do with retired Marian Hossa and the Arizona Coyotes - where NHL contracts go to die... His actual salary for the final two years of his contract (2019-20, 2020-21) is $1 million per season. A budget team could benefit from it... If Zetterberg’s career is really coming to an end, he won’t retire because of the cap-recapture penalty the Wings would incur and so this could be a great option for the Red Wings.
As for the plan to replace Zetterberg on the ice, Custance revealed that "the expectation now is that Michael Rasmussen will ease into his NHL career on the wing, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if coach Jeff Blashill decided to move him to the middle if Zetterberg is gone."