Back issue makes Henrik Zetterberg’s future ‘real unknown’

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There was good news and bad news for the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. 

The good news was that Dylan Larkin signed a five-year extension, locking himself in with the team until the end of the 2022-23 NHL season.

The bad news is that the status of captain Henrik Zetterberg’s health is not looking good. A month ago, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the forward was planning to play in 2018-19, but that his back would determine whether that would happen. A summer golf outing with some fellow NHLers looked like a good sign.

On a conference call with reporters on Friday, Holland delivered a discouraging update.

“I have talked to his agent a number of times over the course of the summer, and I know he’s had a tough summer,” he said. “He hasn’t been able to train anywhere near close to where he’s been able to train past summers due to his back. So there is a real unknown right now with Henrik Zetterberg.”

Zetterberg, who turns 38 in October, hasn’t missed a game in three seasons. The lingering back issue caused speculation earlier this off-season that he might sit out the year to heal up.

“Certainly, he’s a bit of an unknown in terms of health,” said Holland. “He didn’t practice basically the last two, two-and-a-half months of the season, he just played games.”

The Red Wings are in a clear transition phase at the moment and it’d be great for their younger players to have someone like Zetterberg around. But there’s also the fact that he still has three years remaining on a contract that carries a $6.083 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season. He’s not going to retire and forfeit the money owed to him, so it’s looking like a long layoff is in the cards.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.