Not worth risk: Back injury forces Wings' Zetterberg to retire

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Henrik Zetterberg met with the media on Friday morning at Wings' training camp to discuss his retirement  from the NHL due to a back condition.

Traverse City — Henrik Zetterberg is ending his career.

Zetterberg saw a specialist in New York last week and found he had a degenerative back condition. Rather than assuming any further risk and affecting his quality of life, he has decided to not play.

“He’s made a decision he’s not prepared to take the risk to play professional hockey anymore,” general manager Ken  Holland said. “He’s got a degenerative condition in his back. Part of the degenerative condition in his back is arthritis. Nothing can be done, no back surgery, no rehab, no more time off is going to have any positive impact, and if he were to play professional hockey, it’s going to accelerate the degeneration.

“If he were to take a bad hit, he’s risking significant back surgery and Henrik has decided his quality of life is more important than taking the risk of back surgery.

“Basically we’re moving forward and Henrik — appears that his career is over.”

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Holland said Zetterberg, who will be 38 on Oct. 9, will be placed on long-term injured-reserve. By having Zetterberg on LTIR the Red Wings get some salary cap relief from Zetterberg’s salary cap hit of slightly over $6 million.

Zetterberg showed brief emotion, but was comfortable with the decision at a brief news conference at Centre ICE Arena in Traverse City.

“Obviously it’s emotional, it’s been 15 years here,” Zetterberg said. “Even though I knew I was on my last couple of years, I wish I could have played a little bit longer.”

Zetterberg began not practicing in January, toward the middle of last season, to save himself for just games.

“Starting in January, something was not quite right,” Zetterberg said. “I found a way to play through the season, and in the summer hoped to get a little bit better.

“I went to see Dr. (Frank) Camissa (in New York) last week and the final results, nothing had really changed.”

It was Camissa who operated on Zetterberg’s back in 2014 after Zetterberg couldn’t complete the Olympics because of severe back pain.

His strong ties to the organization made the decision not to play difficult.

“Detroit and the Red Wings have been such a big part of our life,” Zetterberg said. “We’ve (he and his wife Emma) have spent our grown up life here and we have an American son. She knows what I’ve gone through and I think she’s happy I don’t have to do that.

“But at the same time, she also knows I want to play.”

Zetterberg has been the Wings’ captain since 2012-13. Holland said there has been no decision on whether to name a new captain, or simply have three assistant captains for the forseeable future.

“I’ve talked to Blash (coach Jeff Blashill) a little bit about it and we’re going to go through training camp and make decisions to what we will do in terms of letters before the season starts,” Holland said. “We wanted to get everyone into camp and get going here. We’re not sure if we’ll have captains or all just assistants.

“We’ll make decision over the next three weeks.”

While the Wings will be losing an accomplished leader off the ice, Zetterberg was still a productive player his final seasons with the Wings and his production will need to be replaced.

Zetterberg’s 56 points last season (11 goals, 45 assists) ranked second behind Dylan Larkin’s 63 points.

Zetterberg ends his Wings’ career ranked fifth in goals (337), assists (623) and points (960). His 1,082 games rank sixth in the organization’s history.

“He’s one of the greatest Red Wings players in our history,” Holland said. “He and Pavel Datsyuk carried the torch for this franchise for another decade (after Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom).”

Zetterberg was the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) while leading the Wings to a 2008 Stanley Cup championship.

Zetterberg was a 1999 seventh-round draft pick of the Wings.

“I’m not sure I saw myself lasting so long when I got drafted as a seventh round pick,” Zetterberg said. “Being in one organization for the whole time is something special.”