Henrik Zetterberg is the Red Wings best player, there is no doubt about it. But Zetterberg’s value to Detroit is largely overlooked and underrated. When you really look at the grand scheme of things, Zetterberg is just as important to Detroit as Connor Mcdavid is to Edmonton.
If you ask me, if Zetterberg was unable to stay healthy last season, even if he was out for 10 or 15 games over the course of the season Detroit would of been competing with the Colorado Avalanche for worst team in the league.
Why is he so important?
I was trying to put together line combinations for next season, and while doing so I ran into a problem. Only 2 players can play on Zetterberg’s line. Several times I found myself saying “oh but he has such great chemistry with Z” and evanually I realized Z has great chemistry with every player he plays with. Larkin, Abdelkader, Nyquist, Tatar, and Mantha over the last 2 years have played their best when on Zetterberg’s line. It’s not just a coincidence that Abdelkader and Larkin struggled away from Zetterberg this season, or that Tatar and Nyquist started to score again when they were placed on his line.
This season Zetterberg lead Detroit with 68 points, the next closest to him was Tatar with 48. This was the largest gap between any teams top 2 scorers. This is largely in part to Zetterberg playing with many different teammates for parts of the season. Zetterberg was able to stay consistent because he makes other players better with his elite hockey IQ and playmaking abilities.
The most impressive stat from this past season is that he was 3rd in the league in 5v5 primary assists. He only trailed Connor McDavid and Ryan Getzlaf. Even more impressive is that Edmonton had three 20-plus goal scorers (not including McDavid) and Anaheim had a 30 goal scorer and two 20-plus goal scorers, while Detroit only had one 20-plus goal scorer.
Zetterberg also lead the Wings in plus/minus as a plus-15. He was just 1 of 3 Red Wings who were a plus (at least 20 games played.) Being a plus player was also the hardest on Zetterberg out of any Detroit forwards because he lead Detroit forwards in TOI/G with 19:43 minutes per game.
Probably the most important attribute of Zetterberg to the Red Wings is his leadership. He is the captain for a reason, every game he gave it his all, did what ever it took to win. There were plenty of times when things looked over, yet he remained composed and stayed determined to set an example for the younger players and kept competing.
A perfect example of his leadership was at the Centinnial Classic against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Detroit trailed 4-1 with 10 minutes to go and Zetterberg along with Anthony Mantha lead the comeback for Detroit. Zetterberg had 2 primary assists in the final 2 minutes as the Wings managed to tie the game in the final seconds. Zetterberg remaining calm and focused on just chipping away at the lead, even when it looked over, speaks volumes about his leadership and dedication.
Reality without Zetterberg
If Zetterberg was not on last year’s Red Wings, not only do his mainly team leading stats like points, assists, and plus minus go away, but many players’ production would be a lot lower as Hank played a big role in boosting players stats. Mainly players like Mantha, Tatar, Nyquist, Larkin, and Abdelkader’s stats have had the most impact from playing alongside Zetterberg. If Detroit has anything to be thankful for it was that he was able to stay healthy and play a full 82 game season.
Going into next season, I expect Hank will not regress at all. This is because of him staying healthy and his skating is already not the greatest. Zetterberg was a great player last year because of his elite puck protection, hockey IQ, playmaking abilities, and determination and Father Time can not hurt him in those aspects.
While I’m sure many Wings fan do appreciate all that he has done for the organization, I still think he has not gotten enough recognition and praise. He is the heart and soul of this team and we do not know how many years he has left, so I will cherish every second he spends on and off the ice, because I am forever thankful of the commitment and passion he shows every game, and you should do the same.