Just a few short weeks ago Henrik Zetterberg admitted to Swedish media that he would likely only play two more years in the NHL despite having four years left on his contract. News of the Detroit Red Wings captain’s plan to retire early came as a surprise and is a decision that will ultimately cost the team.
Now, as Detroit kicks-off their annual training camp in Traverse City, Michigan, Zetterberg is changing his tune about hanging up his skates in 2020. The Detroit Free Press caught up with the Wings’ bearded leader as the team assembled for their pre-camp physicals and asked the captain to elaborate on his recent retirement decision:
‘First of all, it was the not the full story that came out,’ Zetterberg said. ‘I’ve got four more years. I hope I can play four more years. That is my goal. But also I know that I have gone through a few things with my body, especially my back, and even though the last few years has been good, you never know.
I will take it year by year. I am happy the way I played, especially last year, and hopefully, I can follow it up this year. But that I am only going to play two more years, I don’t think that is the correct answer.’
Henrik Zetterberg (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
Whether his latest statement simply corrects a misconstrued and half-told story or is actually a well-prepared PR move, you’ve heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. I tend to believe that Zetterberg means what he says and would like to play for as long as his body will allow. Even approaching the age of 37-years-old, he is still a competitor and the captain of an Original Six franchise, both factors that come with pride and a responsibility not easily stepped away from.
Detroit Needs Zetterberg
The Red Wings suffered many losses in 2016-17, both personal and professional. The passing of Gordie Howe and the team’s longtime owner, Mike Ilitch, coupled with Pavel Datsyuk’s retirement and ultimately missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 26 years were all bitter pills to swallow. Adding the loss of Zetterberg to early retirement would be the cruel and unfortunate cherry to top the cake of Detroit’s mounting uncertainties.
The bottom line is that the Red Wings need Zetterberg as long as he feels that he can physically play and continue to contribute. It sounds like an obvious statement but that’s because it is. To have him walk away from his contract in early fashion in the same way that Pavel Datsyuk did would sting just as bad, if not worse, as when the “Magic Man” left Hockeytown for Russia.
Red Wings’ Captain Henrik Zetterberg (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Detroit has a talented young group of forwards who the team will rely on more heavily over the next few season. Players such as Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and Evgeny Svechnikov will all be tasked to carry on the franchise’s storied legacy. Having a veteran leader like Zetterberg around to oversee things will not hurt that cause. Zetterberg is the type of leader who can assist just as well on the ice as he can on the bench and in the locker room.
Zetterberg Believes in His Team
Whether you are a fan who believes that the Red Wings need to tear the roster/organization down and start from scratch or a faithful Wing-Nut who hasn’t stopped believing, you can’t deny that Detroit’s captain has given his all over the last few seasons as the Wings have struggled to grind their way into the postseason. Even after missing the playoffs for the first time in his 14 year career, Zetterberg still believes the Wings can make a push for Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2017-18:
We have a lot of talent in the group. We have a young team so the future looks good. But we have to take the steps. If we all take a step together, we are going to be there fighting.
Henrik Zetterberg (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Zetterberg has gone the distance to capture hockey’s ultimate prize alongside some extremely talented predecessors, namely Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom. The lessons and examples learned from them are ones that cannot be lost on the next generation of Detroit hockey players. If somehow the Red Wings can collectively bounce-back and once again find themselves in the postseason, Zetterberg’s experience could be a difference-maker.
Ultimately, for the time being, it’s a relief to hear the Red Wings captain set the record straight on how he sees the rest of his career unfolding. Zetterberg is one of the last remaining links to the successful Detroit teams of yesteryear. Losing him sooner, rather than later, would create more problems for the Wings in the future, complicating a team whose fate is already in limbo.