Things might appear 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. While there appears to be nothing good in this last sentence, another NHL insider believes that they could use his absence to their advantage.
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."
No matter what happens with the beloved captain, the Red Wings have finally put a few plans together to make the most of this terrible news. In the meantime, it is clear that no other player will ever be able to replace Zetterberg in Hockey Town...