Henrik Zetterberg, captain for the Detroit Red Wings, underwent successful back surgery and is expected to miss eight weeks. The NHL regular season though ends in seven weeks and the Detroit Red Wings sit precariously in eighth place in the East, the final playoff spot, with three other teams nipping at their heels.
Detroit has made the NHL playoffs 21 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in professional sports, which dates back to the ’90-’91 season. In that span, the Red Wings have won four Stanley Cups, the last in 2008 on the back of Zetterberg who was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
The captain has certainly been the MVP for the Red Wings this season. Zetterberg leads Detroit with 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists), 12 more than defenseman Niklas Kronwall who is second on the team with 36. Incredibly, he’s done that while missing 13 games this season due to nagging injuries.
The Red Wings have been bitten by the injury bug this year with stars Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, and Jimmy Howard missing extended game time. Datsyuk, one of the most talented players to ever play hockey (go ahead, ask Siri who the magic man is), missed 14 straight games dating back to The Winter Classic against Toronto on January 1. He returned to play just two games for the Wings before the Sochi Olympic break began and was a relative non-factor in those contests.
There’s been a lot of chatter in the NHL on how worthwhile it is for the league to allow its players to participate in the Olympics. Datsyuk, who captained team Russia, was criticized for missing too many games for Detroit to rest up for a potential gold-medal run in his home country. In Detroit, the chatter escalated to uproar when Zetterberg, who was serving as captain for Sweden in Sochi, withdrew from a preliminary game citing pain due to a herniated disc in his back. Red Wings fans became livid when they learned their beloved leader was hurt while wearing the C for another team and would likely require surgery.
That surgery was successfully performed by Dr. Frank Cammisa in New York City on Friday during team Sweden’s semifinal win over Finland. When asked about the procedure, Ryan Martin, the Red Wings assistant general manager said, “It went very, very well.” Zetterberg is expected to miss eight weeks, which would mean a return in the middle of the first round of the playoffs if Detroit makes it in. In the meantime, the organization will have to search for offensive help before the March 5 NHL trade deadline.
The good news for Detroit, and the flipside to the Olympic conundrum, is Johan Franzen has had extra time to rest due to the break and plans to play when the Red Wings’ season recommences Wednesday with a road trip to Montreal to face the Canadiens. Jimmy Howard too has had a break even though he’s in Sochi, as he hasn’t seen the ice while serving as third-string net minder for Team USA. The Russian Team’s campaign to win gold on home ice was dashed, but Pavel Datsyuk scored two goals in the thrilling shootout loss to the Americans and three assists in a 5-0 shutout win against Norway. That’s the kind of offensive production the Detroit Red Wings will sorely need if they hope to make the NHL playoffs for an impressive 22nd consecutive time without Henrik Zetterberg at the helm.
By Matt Stinson
Sports Illustrated Injury Report