Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have been the backbone of the Detroit Red Wings for a long time, but how much longer can the Red Wings continue to rely on these aging stars?
Datsyuk turned 37 in July and Zetterberg will turn 35 in October. Despite their advantaged age, they are still two of the better players in the NHL when healthy. Their health has been a cause for concern for a couple of years now.
Datsyuk only played 63 games last season, but still managed to put up 65 points (26 goals and 35 assists). He only played in 45 games the season before that. That means that the Red Wings has been without their dazzling Russian playmaker for 56 games over the past two seasons.
Zetterberg has had back problems for a long time, and it forced him to withdraw from the Swedish Olympic squad in Sochi last year as the Swedes lost to Canada in the final. He was relatively healthy last season, only missing five games, but the season before that he only played 45. Zetterberg had 66 points last season (17 goals and 49 assists) and 48 points the season before that.
There no question that they are still productive when they are on the ice, but how long is it viable for the Red Wings to keep relying on them?
Datsyuk has two season left on his contract with a $7.5 million cap hit, and after that expires it might be best for the Red Wings if they thank the forward for his services and move on. Datsyuk is good enough when healthy that he can carry this team together with Zetterberg, but there will come a time when his body can’t take the physical strain of a tough NHL schedule. Will Detroit want to run the risk of handing Datsyuk another two- or three-year contract to figure out exactly where that line is?
Zetterberg still has a long-term deal with a cap hit of just over $6 million that doesn’t expire until 2021. As long as Zetterberg can sort out his back problem, he can still be a valuable player for the Red Wings for a long time, but you have to wonder if his body will hold up until his contract expires.
The team has a couple of younger stars in Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, and they will be the one to take over once Datsyuk and Zetterberg no longer can be the leaders on the ice for the Red Wings. They would best in absorbing as much as they can from Zetterberg and Datsyuk on how to carry themselves on and off the ice in order to prepare for a leader role in the locker room. The Red Wings has some incredible leaders on the squad in addition to Zetterberg and Datsyuk in Niklas Kronwall and Brad Richards, but they are all in their mid-30s, so the younger players will have to start taking over.
Detroit is preparing for life without Mike Babcock on the bench for the first time in a decade. New head coach Jeff Blashill having a lot of experience working with younger players, having spent time in the USHL, NCAA and AHL. Blashill has spent the last three years in the AHL coaching the Red Wings AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins, and having players like Zetterberg and Datsyuk will surely make the transition much easier for a coach that’s going up to the NHL.
The Red Wings has a short window now when they still have both Zetterberg and Datsyuk on a top level, but Blashill and general manager Ken Holland must prepare for the future when Datsyuk is no longer part of the team. Zetterberg mat have longer shelf life, but Datsyuk should have no more than two seasons left with the team.