I’ve been paying serious attention to the situation with Henrik Zetterberg since the first credible reports of his issues with back problems surfaced, and I was holding out hope that, somehow, Zetterberg might be able to pass his physical and keep his career going…
But listening to coach Blashill’s remarks after today’s Stars and Stripes Showdown were painful.
Everything that Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom dug up, everything that Niklas Kronwall has said to the Swedish media, all the hints and suggestions were made plain by Blashill, and the lack of optimism from Blashill, Justin Abdelkader and Dylan Larkin was palpable, as well as the sense that the team’s closed ranks around their captain, regardless of how near or far they are from the real story.
It’s bad. Zetterberg hasn’t been able to train as he would have liked this summer, and the Wings aren’t holding out a whole lot of hope that Zetterberg will be able to somehow translate a summer of not training into a fall of making up for lost time. Instead, as Blashill and Holland told the media this summer, the Wings have been drawing up two roster plans, one for what happens if Zetterberg returns, and one for what happens if Zetterberg does not.
The tone around today’s Jim Johannsson-themed “Stars and Stripes Showdown” was so optimistic, and the players and coach alike spoke about the fact that they felt honored to be able to help out Joe Kocur’s charity in its 10th annual charity softball game on Saturday, and then to start up what they hope is a yearly event on a late-August Sunday. Today was about hope…
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) August 26, 2018
Until the words, “Can you tell us about Henrik?” were uttered. Then things got a little quiet, faces stiffened up and issued stern expressions, and there wasn’t much hope at all.
Instead of the optimism which permeated the weekend, “I hope” and, “I think” replaced, “I know,” and, “We’ll see,” “We’re hoping,” “I’m not sure” and, “I don’t know if” became the watchwords.
Whatever the situation is, and we won’t know for sure how bad things are until Henrik Zetterberg tells us, it’s not good, and when optimistic hockey players are sticking out their jaws and furrowing their brows, that’s not a good thing at all.
Update: Here are some of Blashill’s comments, as noted by MLive’s Ansar Khan…
Blashill has spoken to Zetterberg a few times this summer.
“Henrik’s message to me is that his back has not reacted well, that he hasn’t had an opportunity to really train,” Blashill said. “For me, there’s lots of doubt because I don’t know how you go through not being able to train and then be able to play an NHL season. I think it’s almost impossible. All signs indicate to me right now that it’ll be very difficult for Henrik to be able to play.”
Blashill said it’s unrealistic to expect Zetterberg to join the team mid-season.
“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. “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 (later in the season). My thought process would be that he’s either going to get to a point where he can play, or he can’t play. And if it’s a point where he can’t play, then we’ll continue to move on without him.”
Blashill said the Red Wings have two plans: one with Zetterberg and one without. If Zetterberg can’t play, Detroit will use Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Andreas Athanasiou and Luke Glendening down the middle. Athanasiou, 24, has been on the wing but center is his natural position.
“The only thing that he has to do better at that position is make sure that he wins faceoffs,” Blashill said of Athanasiou, who has won 42 percent in his NHL career. “But that to me is a position that I’d feel totally confident putting him in, and I think he could do a good job.”
Michael Rasmussen, 19, the No. 9 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, has played center but likely will enter the NHL at left wing.
“I think it’s way easier to break into the National Hockey League as a winger than a center,” Blashill said. “[Center is] a lot of responsibility to put on a guy. The second thing I’d say is, when he plays wing, he might be net front more in the [offensive] zone than when he doesn’t play wing, and his best attribute, for sure, is how good he is at the net front. So he might end up being a winger in the National Hockey League.
“I know that he’s outstanding in front of the net, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to take away from that. So if it eases him in by allowing him to be a winger and really focus on being that net-front guy in the [offensive] zone, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Update #2: Here’s more from DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji:
“We hope that Z’s around, he’s a great player, he’s a great person, he’s done so much for the organization,” Abdelkader said. “We’ll see what happens, we’ll see when that comes. You lean on your leadership, we have a lot of veteran guys that have a lot of experience in the room.”
Zetterberg, who turns 38 on Oct. 9, had to withdraw from the Olympics to undergo back surgery four years ago.
Although Zetterberg has played all 82 games in each of the last three seasons, it was a real struggle to do so this past season.
He had to forego practices in the second half in order to play in the games.
“He gutted it out for two months at the end of the year and it was amazing to see,” Blashill said. “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 and I know there’s obviously, as I said publicly, lots of doubt to where he’ll be at. So he’ll come into camp, he’ll do his physical and we’ll see where he’s at.”