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Should the Red Wings Retire Henrik Zetterberg’s Number?

According to Thesaurus.com, there are 33 different ways to say “yes.”

Upon seeing the question in this column’s headline, odds are good that you exclaimed one of those 33 words or phrases. If you check the link on Twitter, at least one or two people have probably stopped by to grant their own “yes,” without even clicking on the article or offering up their reasoning.

Full disclosure: I own two Detroit Red Wings sweaters. One I received as a birthday present when I was six or seven. Starter brand, and no name stitched on the back. The other, I purchased for myself following the 2009 Winter Classic. Scrolled across the back is the name, Zetterberg, along with his No. 40.

You won’t find a bigger fan of Henrik Zetterberg than me.

I love him for all the same reasons you do. He plays the game the right way. He’s carried the “C” on his chest with dignity. He’s played through painful injuries, leaves it all out on the ice during every shift and has hoisted the Stanley Cup. When it’s all said and done–and according to a recent report, Zetterberg’s career is very much up in the air–he’ll have played every single game of his career as a member of the Red Wings.

But is he one of the greatest Red Wings of all time?

That’s what retiring a number represents. It’s an especially weighty question for an organization like this one, that is old, proud and chock full of outstanding representatives. If you’re like me, your heart answers this inquiry with a resounding Stone Cold Steve Austin-esque “hell yeah.”

Hell yeah! Henrik Zetterberg’s number should be retired.

I wanted to step outside of my fandom for a little while, though, and approach this question objectively. We know what our feelings tell us–and those impacts aren’t inconsequential, which we’ll get to later–but what kind of case does Zetterberg have historically?

The Red Wings have retired seven numbers in their history. They are names that you know well, but let’s take a quick look at each one and what they managed to accomplish throughout their respective careers. This isn’t meant to be exhaustive; instead, we’re just looking for a snapshot.

No. 5 – Nicklas Lidstrom

  • Hall of Famer
  • Stanley Cup Winner x 4
  • All-Star x 12
  • Norris Trophy Winner x 7
  • 2001-02 Conn Smythe Winner
  • Probably speaks better English than you
  • Might be a robot
  • No. 6 all-time for points scored by a defenseman
  • Arguably the best blueliner in the history of the game

No. 19 – Steve Yzerman

  • Hall of Famer
  • Stanley Cup Winner x 3
  • All-Star x 1
  • 2002-03 Masterton
  • 1999-00 Selke
  • 1997-98 Conn Smythe winner
  • Fourth-most games played as a Red Wing (1,514)
  • Second-most points scored as a Red Wing (1,755)
  • No. 9 all-time goals scored by a player (692)
  • Represents what it means to be a Red Wing for multiple generations of fans
  • One of the best two-way centers of his generation

No. 12 – Sid Abel

  • Hall of Famer
  • Stanley Cup winner x 3
  • All-Star x 4
  • 1948-49 Hart Trophy winner
  • Member of the famed “Production Line,” one of the best in NHL history

No. 1 – Terry Sawchuk

  • Hall of Famer
  • Stanley Cup winner x 4
  • 1950-51 Calder Trophy winner
  • All-Star x 7
  • Vezina Trophy winner x 4
  • Most games played by a goalie as a Red Wing (734)
  • Most wins by a goalie as a Red Wing (350)
  • Most shutouts by a goalie as a Red Wing (85)
  • Considered one of the best netminders of all time

No. 10 – Alex Delvecchio

  • Hall of Famer
  • Stanley Cup winner x 3
  • Lady Byng winner x 3
  • All-Star x 2
  • No. 3 all-time in games played by a Red Wing (1,550)
  • No. 3 all-time in goals scored by a Red Wing (456)
  • No. 3 all-time in points scored by a Red Wing (1,281)

No. 7 – Ted Lindsay

  • Hall of Famer
  • Stanley Cup winner x 4
  • 1949-50 Art Ross Trophy winner
  • All-Star x 9
  • No. 6 all-time in goals scored by a Red Wing (335)
  • Member of the famed “Production Line,” one of the best in NHL history

No. 9 – Gordie Howe

  • It’s Mr. Hockey. C’mon.

There’s a lot of common threads running between these players. All of them are in the Hall of Fame. All of them have won Stanley Cups. And at least four of them are among the best players to have ever played their position in the history of the league–not just as a member of the Red Wings.

Zetterberg ticks at least one of these boxes as a winner of the Stanley Cup, and we don’t know if he’ll make it into the Hall of Fame just yet. For reference, last year Greg Wyshynski analyzed a few dozen players and broke down which ones he thought were locks based on four criteria (individual production, on-ice impact, prestige, cultural impact). “Z” was in the close but no Hall heading based on those criteria.

That’s obviously not the end-all-be-all, but it illustrates a key point: Zetterberg isn’t a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. Pavel Datsyuk is, but the other Eurotwin isn’t a lock.

If he doesn’t make the cut, would the Red Wings be willing to retire his number and make him the first non-HOFer to have his number retired? Moreover, would they be willing to retire both No. 13 and No. 40? Whether Datsyuk “deserves” to have his digits raised is another question entirely, but one could argue that if Zetterberg receives the honor, so should Pav.

Then there’s the lengthy list of high-end players who skated for the Red Wings but haven’t had their numbers retired yet to consider. Sergei Fedorov comes to mind. So does Brendan Shanahan, Norm Ullman, and Chris Osgood. Has Zetterberg’s cultural impact been so great that he should have his No. 40 raised while No. 91, No. 14 and No. 30 stays in circulation?

These are tough questions. Questions I don’t know the answers to, but wanted to discuss with Red Wings fans from around the globe. For the sake of this exercise, let’s break Zetterberg’s career down the same we did for the guys who have had their numbers raised. Just to see what it’d look like side-by-side with the other snapshots.

No. 40 – Henrik Zetterberg

  • Stanley Cup winner x 1
  • All-Star x 1
  • 2014-15 Clancy Award winner
  • 2007-08 Conn Smythe winner
  • No. 5 all-time goals scored by a Red Wing (337)
  • No. 6 all-time games played by a Red Wing (1,082)
  • No. 5 all-time points by a Red Wing (960)

While he’s missing some of the personal accolades, it’s not like Lindsay, Delvecchio, Abel, and Yzerman were raking in personal trophies. To me, this is where things started to become clear.

Zetterberg might not be an all-time great NHLer, but he’ll be remembered as an all-time great Red Wing. His play during the 2007-08 Stanley Cup playoffs should still give you butterflies when you think about it, and, like Yzerman, he’s captained the team through a tumultuous time of roster turnover and change.

When I started writing this, I thought that I was going to arrive at the conclusion that Zetterberg didn’t quite live up to the greats who have had their numbers retired in Detroit. That’s why this was a fun post to write, though. I wasn’t sure nor was I set in my choice. I really wanted to dig into this a bit and see how Zetterberg stacked up against some of the all-time great Red Wings.

Turns out my heart and my head can agree on this one. If Henrik Zetterberg has indeed played his last game with the winged wheel on his chest, then he deserves to watch as his No. 40 is lifted to the rafters of Little Caesars Arena.