Henrik Zetterberg’s hockey career is over.
The news doesn’t sting any less coming out Friday morning, even as most knew this day was come to come eventually. But with Detroit general manager Ken Holland’s confirmation of the retirement of Zetterberg, there’s more than a little disappointment in the air.
The 37-year-old was a big question mark in the off-season, but the Red Wings have officially placed him on the long-term injured reserve after he failed to pass a physical. He has a degenerative back condition and what’s done is done.
Zetterberg had back surgery in 2014 but seemed to bounce back and played 82 games in three straight seasons starting in 2015. But in the off-season, Detroit coach Jeff Blashill confirmed that his player had been unable to train.
“He gutted it out for two months at the end of the year, and it was amazing to see,” Blashill said at the time. “But it’s one thing to gut it out for two months; it’s another thing when you haven’t been able to train at all to be able to play an NHL season. I know it’s been a real hard summer.”
If you can believe it, Zetterberg was drafted 210th overall in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft – the same year that saw the Sedin twins drafted and Patrik Stefan go first overall. He came from the same youth league as Fredrik Modin, the Njurunda Sports Club, and was spotted by Jim Nill on a Detroit scouting trip initially intended to scope out Mattias Weinhandl.
Zetterberg signed with the Red Wings in May of 2002 and debuted in the 2002-2003 season against the San Jose Sharks. He had 44 points in his rookie season but was a runner-up to Barrett Jackman for the Calder Trophy.
Zetterberg climbed the ladder in Detroit and was once considered as team captain after the retirement of Steve Yzerman, but that honour went to Nicklas Lidstrom. He won a Stanley Cup in 2008 and continued to pile up the points. He signed a 12-year contract in January of 2009, the longest and most lucrative contract in Detroit history.
By January of 2013, Zetterberg was named team captain after Lidstrom’s retirement. By that time, he was missing games due to the back injury. He even sustained a back injury at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which cost him two months of play with the Red Wings.
In 2015, he secured his 300th career goal and became the seventh Swedish player in NHL history to mark. By the 2017-2018 season, Zetterberg tied Ted Lindsay for fifth all-time in goals as a Red Wing. By March of 2018, he tired Sergei Fedorov for fifth all-time in point as a Red Wing.
The one known as Zäta leaves the game of hockey with his legacy intact, but you have to know he didn’t want to be forced out of the sport. He wanted to retire on his own terms and this stinks for Red Wings fans.
But it also further cements the end of a long era in Detroit. Zetterberg only skated for the Red Wings in the NHL, like Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk, and his permanency as part of the roster has never been tainted by a trade or contract dispute or by internal strife. And, as yesterday’s news reminds us, that’s a rare thing in this game.