Zet­ter­berg to play as long as he’s healthy

36-year-old cap­tain has 4 years left on 12-year, $73M con­tract

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY TED KULFAN The Detroit News

Tra­verse City — It’s not nec­es­sar­ily the length of his con­tract that will de­ter­mine how long cap­tain Hen­rik Zet­ter­berg plays for the Detroit Red Wings. It’ll be how well he feels. Zet­ter­berg told re­porters Thurs­day morn­ing at Cen­tre Ice Arena, on the eve of train­ing camp, that Au­gust’s story out of Swe­den say­ing he might only play two more sea­sons with Detroit was “not the full story.”

Zet­ter­berg, who’ll turn 37 the first Mon­day of the reg­u­lar sea­son, plans on play un­til the end of his con­tract, when he’ll be 41. He has four years left on his 12-year, $73 mil­lion con­tract. But, a lot will de­pend on Zet­ter­berg’s health. “I want to play hockey as long as I can,” Zet­ter­berg said Thurs­day. “The thing that’ll de­cide if I’m not go­ing to play is my body. If I’m not healthy enough to play, I won’t play. But it’s (his health, pri­mar­ily his back) been get­ting bet­ter the last cou­ple of years and hope­fully it’ll con­tinue that way.

“But I’m get­ting older, too, and there’s more and more of a grind to go through ev­ery sea­son.”

While Zet­ter­berg’s salary cap hit is $6.083 mil­lion per sea­son, Zet­ter­berg’s ac­tual salary has ranged from $7 mil­lion 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.

But Zet­ter­berg has de­fied age, lead­ing the Red Wings with 68 points and 51 as­sists, to go along with 17 goals, while play­ing all 82 games last sea­son — in­clud­ing his 1,000th game the fi­nal day of the sea­son. That was also the last the game at Joe Louis Arena.

He ac­tu­ally 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.

“It re­ally hit me af­ter my back surgery,” said Zet­ter­berg, of the im­por­tance of mon­i­tor­ing his work­outs and tak­ing time off if nec­es­sary. “Last sea­son we had a good setup of tak­ing a few more prac­tices off — we looked at the sched­ule and where we could get a lit­tle breather and rest the body, es­pe­cially with the sched­ule we have, and the travel.

“It’s key to find those days to kind of re­coup.”

Many long-term NHL con­tracts, such as Zet­ter­berg’s, are de­signed the way they are to min­i­mize the salary cap hit, yet still make sure the player gets the ma­jor­ity of his money front­loaded.

The NHL has in­sti­tuted road­blocks dis­cour­ag­ing th­ese longterm 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 year the fi­nal two sea­sons.

But, again, Zet­ter­berg said Thurs­day he in­tends to play as long as he can.

“As ev­ery­one knows, I have four more years (on the con­tract) and I hope I can play four more years,” Zet­ter­berg said. “That’s my goal. But I also know I’ve gone through a few things with my body and my back. The last few years have been good (health-wise), but you never know, so you take it year to year.

“But I’m happy with the way I’ve played, es­pe­cially last year, and hope­fully I can do it this year. But that I’m only go­ing to play two more years, I don’t think that’s the cor­rect an­swer. Hope­fully I can play four more years.”

Just be­ing in Tra­verse City, with a bit of a chill in the air, and the rink wait­ing for an­other train­ing camp was in­spir­ing for Zet­ter­berg.

“You come back and see all the guys, and I’ve been here for many years, but it’s just the same feel­ing you get, you’re ex­cited,” Zet­ter­berg said. “You go to din­ners with the guys, spend a lot of time off the ice, and it’s a good time to bond.”

But driv­ing to the rink Thurs­day morn­ing, Zet­ter­berg and long-time team­mate Nik­las Kron­wall, also 36, were struck by their ad­vanc­ing years.

“We think about it ev­ery day, how old we are,” Zet­ter­berg said, smil­ing. “How long it’s been since our first camp, what we went through then, and kind of think what th­ese prospects are think­ing.”

Zet­ter­berg

Gerry Broome/As­so­ci­ated Press

Hen­rik Zet­ter­berg has only missed five games the last three sea­sons, since un­der­go­ing back surgery af­ter the 2014 Olympics.

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