Henrik Zetterberg, the captain of the Detroit Red Wings, revealed his intention to retire before the completion of his current NHL contract. During a recent interview with a Swedish radio station, Henrik stated that he currently plans on playing two more years with the Red Wings despite being signed with the team through the 2020-21 season.
Approaching the age of 37, Zetterberg has enjoyed several productive seasons with the Wings since undergoing surgery to fix a herniated disc in his back that forced his early exit from the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He’s appeared in all 82 regular season games the last two years and has continued to lead the Red Wings as the team continues to transition into a younger club while attempting to carry on the proud legacy of the organization.
The talk of early retirement may be a shocking subject that fans don’t want to hear, considering Detroit’s lackluster 2016-17 season, but it also shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Zetterberg and his wife, Emma, had a child in 2015 and it’s easy to understand their desire to return to their native Sweden to raise their family. In an interview with the Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, Zetterberg declared his love for the city of Detroit but also wasn’t coy about wanting to return to Sweden. The Detroit News provided the English translation:
After about 15 years there (Detroit) it has become a home, I have many friends and acquaintances there, but I miss Sweden more,
If Zetterberg does indeed only intend to play two more seasons in the NHL, what does that mean for the Red Wings moving forward? Detroit currently lacks some much-needed depth at the center position and is also struggling with salary cap management. Both are issues that would be greatly affected by the retirement.
Zetterberg: The Financial Cost
Luckily for the Red Wings, Zetterberg signed his last contract before he was 35, unlike Pavel Datsyuk who also retired early to return to his native country. Detroit’s general manager, Ken Holland, was forced to wheel and deal Datsyuk’s contract at the 2016 NHL Draft to the Arizona Coyotes to avoid having Datsyuk’s $7.5 million contract on Detroit’s books. As a result, the Wings sacrificed the opportunity to acquire one of the draft’s top-rated defenseman, Jacob Chychrun.
However, if Zetterberg retires with two years left on his contract the Red Wings will be hit with an estimated $5-million recapture penalty during those final two years. Winging It In Motown wrote an informative article that breaks down how the cap recapture would work. Ultimately, Detroit’s plan to alleviate such a harsh financial penalty may be to put Zetterberg on LTIR once he officially decides to call it quits. Zetterberg’s history of back problems would be the most likely option for putting him on long-term injured reserve.
In the aforementioned newspaper interview, Zetterberg openly admitted that his mega contract was designed with the contingency of retirement in mind:
The only reason why we wrote such a long contact was because of the payroll. It is quite obvious that you try to fool the system. Actually, I may have two years left, but I have also learned to take one year at a time. But I will probably not play until then (2020-21 season, when the contract expires).
Zetterberg: The Leadership Cost
Aside from the financial ramifications of an early retirement, the most obvious blow to the Red Wings and their fans would be losing their leader. Zetterberg has perfectly exemplified what it means to be the captain of the Red Wings, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Zetterberg’s leadership abilities were never more clearly demonstrated than during the 2016-17 season. With Datsyuk returning to Russia and the Red Wings unable to make the playoffs for the first time in 26 years, Zetterberg never took a night off and boldly faced all the reporters’ questions after every single game. During many post-game interviews Zetterberg would put the blame on himself, even when he was not required to. At times after disappointing games, it was plain to see the frustration on his face as he answered the media’s questions but he always remained poised and professional.
Many people believe that Justin Abdelkader is being groomed to be the next captain in Hockeytown, and he certainly seems to be the most logical choice. Whether or not Abdelkader can represent the captain’s patch like Zetterberg will be open for debate.
When Zetterberg does choose to wave goodbye to the NHL it will be a sad farewell to one of the last remaining pieces of Detroit’s most recent championship era. Zetterberg has more than earned the right to make this decision and will forever be a part of the Red Wings’ storied legacy.