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Has age finally caught up with Henrik Zetterberg?

The inevitable Henrik Zetterberg decline has been discussed ad nauseam for the past three seasons. On the wrong side of 30, everyone has been attempting to predict when the Captain would bottom out.

Many thought it would happen last season, but Zetterberg staved off Father Time, notching 68 points (17 goals, 51 assists) in 82 games, leading the Detroit Red Wings in assists and points. He also had a 5 on 5 score-adjusted shot attempts percentage of 50.30 last season, which isn’t impressive by any means, but he managed to keep his head above water on a team that struggles to suppress shots while the league shifts to younger and faster players.

This season has been a different story for the 15-year veteran.

Zetterberg scored his first goal in 23 games Monday against the Florida Panthers and has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 30 games. However, his 5 on 5 possession percentage this season is 46.52, well below his mark of 51.64 from the past three seasons. In fact, Zetterberg hasn’t had a possession mark below 50 since advanced stats started being recorded for the 2007-08 season.

This season’s possession percentage is the second worst on the team for those who have played at least 20 games, ahead of only Andreas Athanasiou. His relative possession percentage also is second worst (-4.41) ahead again of Athanasiou.

It’s not as if Zetterberg is experiencing bad luck, he is generating fewer quality shots than he is allowing. According to Corsica, Zetterberg’s expected goals for percentage is 45.24, well behind last year’s 53.65 mark. If anything, Zetterberg is marginally over-performing, as his 47.69 goals for percentage suggests he is scoring slightly more than he should be.

What’s even more concerning is Zetterberg is spending a good chunk of his ice time with the same players. This season, Zetterberg has more than 350 minutes with Gustav Nyquist and about 150 with Tomas Tatar. Last season, it was 590 minutes with Nyquist and 804 minutes with Tatar.

Look at the differences in shot generation between this season (top) and last season, from HockeyViz.

Zetterberg WOWY 2017-18 (HockeyViz)
Zetterberg WOWY 2016-17 (HockeyViz)

Last season, most of the red boxes were moving toward the bottom-left “bad” section of the graph, meaning that player is allowing more shot attempts and generating fewer shot attempts without Zetterberg. Contrast that from this season, where most of the red boxes are trending toward the upper-right “good” section, which signifies that player is generating more shot attempts for and allowing fewer shot attempts against.

Another factor not working in Zetterberg’s favor, coach Jeff Blashill is deploying him in a heavy offensive role, as Zetterberg’s offensive zone faceoff percentage of 59.12 trails only Niklas Kronwall, Martin Frk and Nyquist.

So, it’s not as if Zetterberg is hemmed in his own zone because he starts most of his shifts in the defensive zone. He’s hemmed in his own zone despite taking more offensive zone faceoffs. Granted, about 57 percent of all shifts begin on the fly, so faceoff starts account for less than half of all shift starts and aren’t a complete representation of where Zetterberg is beginning his shifts, but it does tell part of the story.

Blashill also continues to give Zetterberg ample ice time, as he’s averaging 15:32 at 5 on 5, up slightly from 15:26 last season and up nearly a minute (14:36) from 2015-16.

As you can see in the chart below by Sean Tierney, Zetterberg accounts for 34 percent of the team’s 5 on 5 ice time, yet has a points per 60 mark of about 1.5, slightly below the league average of 1.607.

Productivity chart by Sean Tierney.

Last season, he had a 2.32 points per 60 mark while accounting for about 32 percent of his team’s ice time, which would put in squarely in the “productive” quadrant.

Also worthy of mention: Zetterberg’s giveaways per 60 minutes at 5 on 5 this season (2.06) is the highest it’s been since he had a 2.12 mark during the 2011-12 season.

The numbers don’t paint a pretty picture for Zetterberg, and it appears age has finally caught up with him. By decreasing his 5 on 5 ice time, it’s possible Zetterberg can be more effective. However, with the Red Wings struggling to score on a consistent basis — ranked 28th in the league with 2.6 goals scored per game — Blashill has been forced to over-rely on the 37-year-old.

However, that ice time might be better spent on younger players.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted.