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Detroit — When Henrik Zetterberg signed a 12-year contract, the idea of him completing it seemed far-fetched.

Now, even Zetterberg admits it may not happen.

Zetterberg, who’ll turn 37 four days after the Red Wings’ season begins, told a Swedish radio station he’ll likely play two more years —although he’s signed through the 2020-21 season.

Translated from the Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, Zetterberg said “the only reason why we wrote such a long contact was because of the payroll. It is quite obvious that you try to fool the system. Actually, I may have two years left, but I have also learned to take one year at a time. But I will probably not play until then (2020-21 season, when the contract expires).”

2017-18 DETROIT RED WINGS SCHEDULE

General manager Ken Holland said in a text message he hasn’t spoken to Zetterberg regarding the subject.

While Zetterberg’s salary cap hit is $6.083 million per season — the total contract is worth $73 million — Zetterberg’s actual salary has ranged from $7 to $7.75 million per season. He’ll be paid $7 million this season, then drop to $3.35 million next season and only $1 million of actual salary the final two years of the contract.

Many long-term NHL contracts are designed this way to get around the salary cap, minimize the salary cap hit, yet still make sure the player gets the majority of his money in such a front-loaded contract.

The NHL has instituted roadblocks discouraging these long-term deals, slapping a salary cap recapture penalty against a team whose player retires before the end of his contract.

If Zetterberg were to retire two seasons before the end of his contract, the Red Wings would be hit with a recapture penalty of roughly $5.5 million per the final two seasons.

But the Red Wings would get significant relief if Zetterberg — who has obviously had back problems in his career — were to go on long-term injured reserve (similar to Johan Franzen currently with his concussion issues).

Zetterberg defied age last season, leading the team with 68 points and 51 assists, to go along with 17 goals, while playing all 82 games — including his career 1,000th game the final day of the regular season (also the last the game at Joe Louis Arena).

He hasn’t missed a game the last two seasons and has only missed five games the last three seasons, since undergoing back surgery after the 2014 Olympics.

Zetterberg said in the interview he’ll return home to Sweden after he retires.

“After about 15 years there (Detroit) it has become a home, I have many friends and acquaintances there, but I miss Sweden more,” Zetterberg said.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

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