Approaching his 38th birthday and coming off three straight 82-game campaigns, Henrik Zetterberg is set to see that streak end in 2018-19. The Detroit Red Wings captain confirmed Tuesday evening that he’ll miss the start of the coming season, leading to questions of whether retirement is near for the former Stanley Cup champion.
Per Bjurman, of Swedish newspaper Sportbladet, initially reported Tuesday afternoon that the veteran forward could miss some time. Zetterberg confirmed as much to The Athletic’s Craig Custance soon after, opening up on the difficulties he’s had with his back issues as of late.
“Every time I try to ramp it up, I get symptoms and have to scale back,” he told Custance. “…You can’t do much surgically on it. It is what it is. They took away part of my disc in my back. You can’t add another disc.”
Though he has three years left on his current deal with Detroit, Zetterberg’s age and current injury status could very well mean the end of his illustrious NHL tenure. But he said he’s not prepared to make that decision at this time, and is back in Detroit to meet with doctors and get more professional opinions on his current state.
“I don’t think I’m ready for that yet,” Zetterberg said of closing the door on his professional career. “I need to make that decision. I have to get it black and white from somewhere.”
If the talented Swede’s head coach is to be believed, though, missing the start of the 2018-19 campaign will likely bring a season-long absence for the veteran. Red Wings bench boss Jeff Blashill plainly told reporters Sunday that he doesn’t expect his captain to play next season if he’s forced to miss the opening slate of the schedule.
“If he comes into camp and is in a spot where he’s not cleared, I wouldn’t plan on him for the rest of the year,” Blashill said at the Stars & Stripes Showdown, according to ESPN. “That would be my take, because I don’t know how you go from not being able to train and then not cleared to all of a sudden being cleared.”
Blashill also said Zetterberg dealt with significant injury issues at the tail end of 2017-18, but managed to play through them. Now, however, the longtime Red Wing finds himself mired in a difficult off-season.
“I know it’s been a hard summer for him. I know he hasn’t really been able to train,” the coach said Sunday. “He gutted it out for two months at the end of the year, and it was amazing to see. 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.”
Zetterberg has logged a total of 15 years in the big leagues, all with Detroit, with whom he climbed the Stanley Cup summit in 2008 — the culmination of a career-best season that also saw him post personal-best marks of 43 goals and 92 points. His production has dipped in recent years as injury issues have ramped up, though the veteran still managed a 56-point effort last season.
Should he be forced to retire before taking the ice again for the Red Wings, he’ll leave the sport with 337 goals and 960 points to his name, both ranking as the sixth-highest totals ever posted by a Swedish player in NHL history.