Sweden forward Henrik Zetterberg, right, reacts in front of Czech Republic defenseman Tomas Kaberle after Sweden scored a goal in the second period of a game Wednesday. (Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
Sochi, Russia — The nightmarish season of injuries for the Red Wings took another scary turn Friday when the Swedish team announced that Henrik Zetterberg would play no more in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and leave the Olympic Village to have his long-problematic back examined.
It is possible Zetterberg's NHL season is over, according to the Swedish team doctor, Bjorn Waldeback.
"They have to make a decision over there and then see, but if it stays like this that will be the case," Waldeback said in a candid moment utterly inconsistent with public comments on injuries in the NHL.
Red Wings officials were not immediately available for comment. general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock are with the Canadian men's ice hockey team, which is preparing to play Austria on Friday night.
However, on several occasions in the past, since 2008, when Zetterberg's back has been injured, rest and treatment, including with anti-inflammatories, has allowed him to return to play.
Whether that continues to be the case at age 33, and when he already tried rest and treatment on a herniated disc earlier this season, only to have it flair up again at the start of the Olympics, waits to be seen.
“What he’s going through right now, it hurts just to watch him,” Wings teammate Niklas Kronwall told the Associated Press after Team Sweden beat Switzerland, 1-0, on Friday. “He goes through more than most people just to be able to play.”
Surgery also can be a treatment for the injury.
The development in Russia raises the possibility Zetterberg will be available on a limited basis or not at all for the Red Wings’ stretch drive to what would be their 23rd consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Zetterberg, captain of the Red Wings and winner of a Stanley Cup, got off to one of the finest starts of his career, this season, after some slow starts, recently.
He has 16 goals and 32 assists at the Olympic break, appearing in 45 of the Wings' 58 games.
His leadership skills are touted as among the best in the NHL, and Babcock repeatedly credits him with helping to bring along the many young players on the Red Wings, as the franchise continues to transition from the years when players like Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman helped win four Stanley Cups from 1997 to 2008.
Zetterberg also has the reputation of outplaying larger men and of excelling in big games, especially during the playoffs.
In Sweden's 4-2 victory over the Czech Republic Wednesday, Zetterberg appeared to be in some discomfort.
On Thursday, reports in Sweden said he was done for the tournament.
"In this situation, it was no tough decision and this was no borderline case," Waldeback said. "For people who know medicine, it is obvious that this couldn't continue. He is still suffering from his back injury, and it is so painful for him that he can't be in it anymore.
"Z has been in touch with the Detroit medical staff. I have been in touch with the NHL doctors, who are here. They totally agree with us. When you suffer from a herniated disc the way he does, you need to go home for a medical examination."
Niklas Kronwall, the Red Wings' defenseman, will replace Zetterberg as captain of the Swedish squad.
It is at least the second time this season and the fourth time in the standout 33-year-old forward’s career that he has missed playing time because of his back. With injuries in the NHL kept most secret, it is difficult to know how often it has bothered him.
But the sense around the Wings' dressing room is that, like Yzerman before him, Zetterberg plays in pain more often than is known.