As Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg go, so go the Detroit Red Wings. But how much longer will that ring true?
Datsyuk made his National Hockey League debut in 2001-02 and Zetterberg followed a season later, giving the Red Wings a dynamic duo that has led the team ever since. Datsyuk was a member of Detroit’s Stanley Cup championship teams in 2002 and 2008, while Zetterberg helped guide the club to the latter title, capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as a result of his efforts.
Fast forward to the present, and the tandem still is leading the charge in Hockeytown. At the ages of 34 and 37, respectively, Zetterberg and Datsyuk showed no signs of their production slowing down as they finished 2014-15 as the Red Wings’ top two scorers.
Zetterberg notched a club-high 49 assists in 77 games en route to a team-leading 66 points, while Datsyuk trailed him by one despite appearing in 14 fewer contests due to injuries. A native of Sweden, Zetterberg also topped the club with 28 points on the power play, while his Russian cohort finished tied with Gustav Nyquist for second in the category with 24.
However, Datsyuk’s body is beginning to break down, as the four-time Lady Byng Trophy winner and three-time Selke Trophy recipient has missed at least 10 games with ailments in four of the last five seasons. The only exception was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, in which he skated in 47 of Detroit’s 48 contests.
Selected in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, Datsyuk had somewhat of a resurgence last season, even though he was limited to 63 games. He averaged more than a point per contest while scoring 26 goals — his highest total since netting 27 in 80 games during the 2009-10 campaign.
A four-time All-Star, Datsyuk has two years remaining on what likely will be the final contract of his career. The Red Wings, who will have a cap hit of $7.5 million in each of the seasons, hope the veteran center will hold up physically and continue to produce, although he may miss the beginning of 2015-16 after undergoing offseason ankle surgery.
Detroit found another diamond in the rough a year after selecting Datsyuk, as Zetterberg was taken in the seventh round in 1999. The franchise held the left wing in such high esteem, it annointed him the successor to Nicklas Lidstrom as team captain after the Swedish defenseman wrapped up his Hall-of-Fame career.
Zetterberg has far exceeded the Red Wings’ expectations of him, scoring 22 goals as a rookie in 2002-03 and reaching the plateau seven more times from 2005-12 – setting a career high with 43 tallies in 2007-08. He has been selected to appear in two All-Star Games and was a finalist for both the Calder and Selke Trophies in 2003 and 2008, respectively.
Unlike Datsyuk, Zetterberg is one of 26 players who have made their way into what is called the Triple Gold Club. Each member has won a Stanley Cup and gold medals at both the Olympics and the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship.
Zetterberg’s health allowed him to play nearly the entire 2014-15 season after he saw action in only 45 contests the previous campaign due to chronic back problems that led to surgery. Detroit needs his back to hold up as it has the native of Njurunda under contract for six more seasons after signing him to a 12-year, $73 million deal in January 2009.
The Red Wings have begun to usher in a new regime with the likes of Tomas Tatar and Nyquist, who both eclipsed the 50-point plateau in finishing third and fourth, respectively, in scoring last season. But both can continue to learn their trade from Datsyuk and Zetterberg, who likely have enough in the tank to help Detroit make another run at a championship in the mediocre Eastern Conference.