On September 14th, Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg announced his retirement due to a back injury. It was an injury that had bothered him all season, but he never let it force him to miss a game.
“He’s got a degenerative condition in his back,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “Part of the degenerative condition is significant arthritis. Nothing can be done. No back surgery. No rehab. No more time off is going to have any positive impact.”
“Obviously, it is emotional,” Zetterberg said. “It’s been 15 years here. Even though I knew I was on my last couple years, I wish that I could have played a little bit longer.”
Zetterberg was drafted 210th overall mostly as an afterthought in 1999. Now, almost 20 years later, we see him as a Red Wings legend, and potential Hall of Famer. How did we get to this point?
After Zetterberg was drafted, he continued to play overseas in Sweden until the 2002-03 season. He signed his entry level contract that offseason, and in his rookie year, netted 44 points in 79 games. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup that year, defeating the upstart Carolina Hurricanes in five games. Zetterberg dropped off a bit in 2003-04, netting 43 points in 61 games, but exploded during the 2005-06 campaign. He played 77 games, scoring a then-career-high 39 goals and 85 points. The Red Wings, however, lost to the eventual Western Conference champion Edmonton Oilers in the first round.
Zetterberg only played 63 games in 2006-07, scoring just 68 points. Despite this, the Red Wings came close to their first Stanley Cup Finals birth since the 02-03 season. They fell short against the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks. Zetterberg proceeded to have his best season ever in 2007-08, netting 92 points in 75 games. The Red Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games to win the Stanley Cup once again. Zetterberg was named the “Conn Smythe”, and had one of the most memorable shifts in recent memory.
The Red Wings and Zetterberg found themselves in the Finals again the following year, but the Penguins exacted their revenge and won in seven games. It was the last time the Wings saw the Stanley Cup Finals in the Zetterberg era. They lost in the second round to the San Jose Sharks in 2009-10. Zetterberg recorded 70 points in that 09-10 season before reaching 80 the following year. 2011-12 marked the first season Zetterberg played all 82 games in the season, and he recorded 69 points. This season also marked the last season he scored at least 20 goals, as he potted 22 that year.
The NHL experienced its second lockout in less than a decade in 2012-13, which cancelled almost half the season. Zetterberg played 46 games that year, and recorded 48 points. He played a game less the next year, but still posted 48 points. For the rest of his career, he didn’t dip below 50 points, and became one of the Red Wings most durable players. The last three years of his career, he played all 82 games.
Zetterberg finished his career with 1082 games played, 337 goals, and 960 points. He holds the team record for consecutive games with a point to start the season (17) and most points in a single playoff season (27). He left with nothing but praise from teammates.
“I watched him a ton,” said center Dylan Larkin, “I idolized him.”
“I didn’t really understand how good of a playmaker he was, how he knew where everyone was on the ice,” Larkin continued. “Playing with him, you don’t even need to call for the puck. You know it’s coming. He’s going to find a way to get it to you. You’re on a 2-on-1 or you’re … there’s a stick in the lane or there’s a couple guys there, he’s going to get the pass through, which is, I think, amazing.”
“Without him in the locker room, it is going to be weird,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “He has been there ever since I got here, and he’s always been the backbone of the team.” Kronwall, a fellow Swede, was drafted in the first round by the Red Wings in 2000. “I can’t say enough good things about him, all the stuff he has battled through. I don’t think people realize what he’s gone through to still be able to play three full seasons in a row, it really is incredible.”
“Words can’t express how much he means to this organization,” Kronwall continued. “Always best when needed to, regardless of the state of the game. That’s what stands out among the great players. He’ll be remembered for it.”
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