Red Wings players preparing for season without Zetterberg
Henrik Zetterburg's teammates are dealing with the real possibility that their captain's career may be over.
Though they are still holding out hope for his return, Red Wings players are ready for the likely possibility that captain Henrik Zetterberg won’t play this season and that his playing career is over.
Zetterberg, who will be 38 on Oct. 9, has not been able to work out during the summer due to his chronic back. He underwent back surgery in 2014 and has played 323 of 328 games in the four seasons since.
"He's battling through it," Niklas Kronwall told www.mlive.com on Thursday after an informal practice at Little Caesars Arena. "Part of me hopes that he sees some doctors now and they can come up with some solutions and that we get him to training camp or train the way he wants to, and then just be ready whenever that is.
"You feel for him. But, at the same time, he has to train to be able to play and compete at this level, regardless of how talented he is. If you can't train, it's tough to play at this level."
His back did not allow Zetterberg to practice for the final two months of last season, yet he didn't miss a game. It was the third consecutive season the Zetterberg played all 82 games.
"There were some days where it was tough for him to get out of bed, and he still plays 22 minutes that same night," Kronwall said. "It says a lot about his character and how much he loves the game."
Zetterberg’s absence will push Dylan Larkin into the No. 1 center spot with Frans Nielsen as the second-line pivot, and move Andreas Athanasiou from wing to the No. 3 center spot, Detroit coach Jeff Blashill has said.
It also creates more of an opportunity for other players, such as potential rookies Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen, who will be given the opportunity to make the team out of training camp.
"It gives an opportunity for guys to step up," Gustav Nyquist said. "I'm a guy that wants to step up this year and be more of a leader and be a good player. Hopefully I can do that."
But he hasn't completely given up on Zetterberg’s chances of returning.
"He's our leader and he's still our best player, in my opinion," Nyquist said. "That'd be a tough loss for us for sure. But hopefully he can figure out a way here to rehab or something like that and try to get back on the ice."
Justin Abdelkader said Zetterberg's talent and leadership can't be replaced.
"We have a lot of veteran guys that have been in this league for a long time and know what it takes to win, so we got to keep the culture and stay with it here, learn from last season," Abdelkader said. "Obviously not the way we wanted it to go, but we were in a lot of games and when we get to overtime, find ways to get those extra points and not give up as many leads. I think we'll be better off because of it.
"Unfortunately, Henrik, with what he's going through, you just can't replace that."