After a somewhat slow second half of July, the Detroit Red Wings made a big splash Friday with two pieces of news.
Firstly, Dylan Larkin finally got his new contract, signing a 5-year, $6.1-million deal. It’s a deal that makes sense for both sides: Larkin gets paid a fair amount for the production we’ve seen during the past three seasons, and the Red Wings buy one year of Larkin’s unrestricted free agent years.
For what it’s worth, Matt Cane’s salary projection model had Larkin signing a six-year, $6.3-million deal. Ideally, if you’re the Red Wings, you want that extra year of UFA status, but five years isn’t the end of the world.
The second piece of news came about an hour after the Larkin news, and it’s not-so-great news for the Red Wings.
"I am anxious to know where Henrik Zetterberg is at. He’s a bit of an unknown as far as health. Have talked to his agent – he has had tough summer. He hasn’t been able to train anywhere near where at past summers. I'm hoping he'll play." – Ken Holland
— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) August 10, 2018
Apparently, Henrik Zetterberg has had a tough time attempting to train this summer and his future with the Red Wings could be in jeopardy.
Helene St. James also reported Zetterberg didn’t practice for about the last two months of this past season, saving himself for games rather than taking a chance at aggravating his back even further, which he had surgery on in spring 2014. He’ll be 38 on Oct. 9.
Should Zetterberg be unable to suit up this season, that would allow the Red Wings to place him on long-term injured reserve, taking his $6.083 million off the books and giving Detroit salary cap relief on top of Johan Franzen‘s $3.954 million.
Of course, things could change between now and training camp next month, but as it stands today, it appears the Red Wings will have to face the very likely possibility of playing the 2018-19 season without their captain.
The loss of Zetterberg could mean the addition of Filip Zadina.
Without Zetterberg or Franzen, the Red Wings have 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. This leaves an opportunity for Evgeny Svechnikov, Michael Rasmussen, Zadina, Filip Hronek, Joe Hicketts, Dennis Cholowski or Libor Sulak an opportunity to make the big club.
Rasmussen was pretty much a lock even before the Zetterberg news and adding Zadina would put Detroit at 14 forwards.
For all of the visual learners, here’s a depth chart I whipped up, courtesy of Cap Friendly.
Don’t pay attention to the lines so much as the players who will be on the active roster for the season-opener. This team is cap compliant, and it features two to three new players, something Holland promised this summer. Of course, this also assumes everyone makes it through training camp and the preseason healthy, which generally does not happen.
I already outlined why I think Zadina should be in the AHL this season, but Holland has expressed he wants a competitive team that fans will want to see despite going through a rebuild.
While Zetterberg hasn’t been the player he once was, he still has managed to produce, scoring 11 goals and adding 45 assists last season while playing 82 games. He’s played all 82 games the past three seasons while scoring at least 50 points each season. His presence will be missed.
The loss of Zetterberg also hurts the team’s depth at center. Frans Nielsen is not a second-line center at this point in his career, but the Red Wings don’t have a lot of options, short of using Rasmussen — which would go against the team’s original plan to break him in at wing, like they did with Larkin — or Andreas Athanasiou there.
If the Red Wings have to play this season without Zetterberg, it might force them to bring in Zadina, giving fans something to look forward to despite the likely scenario of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season.