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Is this it for Zetterberg with Red Wings? Maybe it should be

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With his back issues in mind, the Detroit Red Wings aren’t sure if Henrik Zetterberg will be able to play next season.

It’s something GM Ken Holland acknowledged as free agency began on July 1, according to reporters including Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News.

“The last I talked to him, he’s planning on playing,” Holland said. “Obviously his back is going to determine whether he can or can’t. Do I have a clear green light (as to whether Zetterberg is returning)? I’m expecting him to play. Do I have a clear green light? No.”

With that uncertainty in mind, it’s not too surprising that something as minor as Zetterberg playing golf was enough to seem like an “encouraging sign” to the Red Wings, as the Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James noted today. Apparently Zetterberg joined Erik Karlsson and other pals on the greens, as Karlsson shared:

Another beautiful day. #trumpinternational

A post shared by Erik Karlsson (@erikkarlsson65) on

Sure, playing golf is lot easier when you aren’t in excruciating back pain, but it merely provides a minor bit of optimism about Zetterberg’s health. Without diving too deep into #PleaseLikeMySport territory, it’s fair to say that a jovial day of golf with your pals (pro athletes or not) isn’t exactly the same as dealing with checks, slashes, and hooks in the NHL.

Clearly, there’s little certainty about Zetterberg’s viability.

Personally, though, this is another case of the wrong questions being asked. The Red Wings aren’t best served asking if Zetterberg could play in 2018-19; instead, they should be wondering if he should.

What’s best for Zetterberg?

With 56 points last season, Zetterberg finished second in scoring for the Red Wings, trailing only Dylan Larkin‘s 63. The sturdy Swede was outright brilliant the year before, easily leading Detroit with 68 points in 2016-17. By just about any reasonable measure, Zetterberg is still good enough to play.

Still, his efforts failed to land the Red Wings in the playoffs in either of the past two seasons, and the Red Wings fell in the first round in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

On paper, Zetterberg could face a Sisyphean task in 2018-19: trying to push a mediocre (if not outright bad) team to the playoffs while suffering through back pain. At 37, the upside seems pretty dismal.

Much of the Red Wings messaging is about “culture,” and such thoughts sometimes trickle down to fans and media. Cameron Kuom of Wings Nation worries about the potential off-ice impacts of the Red Wings possibly losing their captain, for instance.

Yet, what about the possibly grim alternative of fans and young teammates watching Zetterberg getting run into the ground for … what, the lure of finishing in the East’s playoff bubble? Miraculously being bounced from the first round?

What’s best for Zetterberg might also be best for Red Wings

Nostalgia represents a tantalizing siren call, one Ken Holland clearly struggles to resist.

Still, at some point, younger Red Wings such as Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and eventually Filip Zadina will need to serve as the leadership group of this franchise, thus being responsible for “the culture.” Why not ease them into such roles during a season of low expectations, rather than pasting the “C” on someone’s chest later on, when fans are growing more and more restless with a one foot in, one foot out rebuild?

It’s fairly obvious that, from looking at Zetterberg’s contract, the expectation was that he’d probably play his last games in 2018-19. Consider how his actual salary compares to his cap hit going forward, via Cap Friendly:

2018-19: $6.083M cap hit; $3.35M salary
2019-20: $6.083M cap hit; $1M salary
2020-21: $6.083M cap hit; $1M salary

Look, it’s no fun to pay someone not to play, which is what the Red Wings would essentially be doing if they place Zetterberg on LTIR.

It makes sense on a number of levels, however, especially since they don’t need to worry about the cap floor even before handing RFA deals to Larkin and Mantha.

Beyond saving Zetterberg some anguish, the Red Wings would increase their odds of landing another high-end draft pick if their captain goes on LTIR and they wade through a rougher regular season. It’s not as if Zetterberg would lack credibility in going on injured reserve, as there have been plenty of questions about his health for some time now.

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If the Red Wings are realistic about their near future, they should err on the side of encouraging Zetterberg to way his health more than trying to gut out the 2018-19 season.

Again, what’s the best-case scenario if Zetterberg plays? He’d take a roster spot from a player who might be part of a longer-term solution in Detroit, on a team few expect to contend. There’s also the unsettling possibility that his own play would plummet. Zetterberg would have robust company if he joined the ranks of sports stars who’ve suffered depressing final seasons, but wouldn’t be more pleasant to see him instead end his Red Wings days with his head held high?

Conversely, the Red Wings could instead improve their odds of landing a lottery pick like Jack Hughes in 2019, something that – deep down – they should realize they really need. Along with the torch being passed to the next generation of Red Wings, there might be a better chance of fringe prospects receiving crucial make-or-break opportunities.

Also, a beloved star wouldn’t needlessly suffer.

Of course, this conversation is moot if Zetterberg really wants to play, or needs to find out for sure if he’s done. Perhaps he’d prefer a relaxed schedule, much like Teemu Selanne experienced (sometimes by choice, other times with hard feelings) during his final season?

There are still some questions in need of answers, and plenty can change between today and the moment Zetterberg decides to call it a career (or, like Pavel Datsyuk, an NHL career).

As sad as it will be to see Z go, there’s a strong chance that it will end up being what’s best for everyone involved.

MORE ON RED WINGS’ RELUCTANT REBUILD

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Red Wings face interesting questions regarding Zadina

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The Detroit Red Wings enjoyed quite the gift on June 22, as Filip Zadina – a prospect many expected to go third overall in the 2018 NHL Draft – instead fell to them at No. 6. Zadina, enjoyably, did his part by saying he’d avenge that slight slippage by filing nets with pucks.

With an entry-level contract already agreed upon recently, the question for 2018-19 is: where will Zadina fill nets with pucks?

That’s actually a multi-pronged question if the Czech winger cannot make the big club out of training camp.

As the Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required) and Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James report, the Red Wings and the NHL believe that Zadina would be eligible to be sent to the AHL rather than the QMJHL if he doesn’t make the Red Wings. It’s a little head-scratching leafing through all of the loan-related details, but Zadina’s agent Darren Ferris told Custance that it’s probably a “moot point” since he believes Zadina will make the team.

And that, more than the slightly convoluted questions about the AHL vs. QMJHL, is where things get more intriguing.

Should the Red Wings actually want Zadina to jump straight from the draft to the NHL?

Personally, if I were running the Red Wings, I’d err on the side of letting Zadina develop elsewhere for a simple reason: Detroit could get better value out of Zadina’s entry-level contract if they let it slide for a season.

Frankly, few outside of the Red Wings organization believe that this team has a strong chance of competing in 2018-19. And, really, a strong rookie season from Zadina could actually land this team in unenviable hockey purgatory; if he sniped in, say, 25 goals, it might help Detroit be competitive enough to avoid the best draft lottery odds, but weak enough to miss the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Generally, that’s the worst of both worlds for a team that needs to rebuild.

It’s a significant consideration for a franchise that seemingly must be dragged kicking and screaming into truly embracing a rebuild.

The anticipation was that the Red Wings’ free agent plan would be at odds with a rebuild, and that essentially came to fruition when they re-signed Mike Green and gave Thomas Vanek some no-trade power with his one-year deal. The Detroit Free Press’ Shawn Windsor did a good job of capturing the frustrations of many Red Wings fans after those signings.

Really? The fanbase bemoaned. More veterans? More inexplicable use of cap space? More of the Wings getting in their own way?

Indeed, it’s easy to see why fans want fewer roadblocks for prospects to turn into more NHL-ready players. After all, is there really that much upside to signing Vanek, who’s already 34? Landing the sniper makes sense for a team that needs that one last, mercenary piece. It’s not as logical for the Red Wings, especially if they really can’t move him during the trade deadline.

So, that’s not so great for prospects trying to elbow their way in, such as Michael Rasmussen, a towering forward Detroit selected ninth overall in 2017. That said, it could be a blessing in disguise if Vanek’s presence helps the Red Wings take a slow-and-steady approach with Zadina.

From a pure team-building standpoint, the Red Wings would likely be best suited to see Zadina’s entry-level deal kick in starting in 2019-20. By then, they’d be that much deeper into their rebuild, with more clarity about aging veterans such as Henrik Zetterberg and more knowledge of what they have in the likes of Rasmussen. Perhaps they’d also add another blue chipper in the 2019 NHL Draft, and maybe a better one if they shipped Zadina to the AHL or junior, depending upon how all of that would shake out.

Of course, there’s another element to consider. When a team is rebuilding, it’s crucial to maintain hope for fans.

With a still-new-arena, Zadina could serve as a draw for fans, even those with low hopes for 2018-19.

Sure, people will share highlights of Zadina on social media, even if those clips are coming from a lower level. That’s already happening.

Plenty of people will prefer seeing those moments in the flesh, and against the highest level of opponents, so there’s also that to consider.

It’s not the easiest call to make. On one hand, the Red Wings made their bones by drafting and developing, frequently finding gems in later rounds. On the other, those days are feeling more and more distant, with recent history showing management decisions that leave a lot to be desired.

The good news is that Zadina might be the sort of prospect where even the wrong move wouldn’t sting too badly. It’s plausible that he’s just that good, and getting him to the NHL ASAP could work out perfectly well.

Either way, these are the types of questions the Red Wings need to be examining beyond mere gut reactions, unless they want this rebuild to drag on far longer than expected.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

1 team, 1,000 games: Milestone increasingly common in NHL

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Victor Hedman refused to go to sleep without a contract.

A full year before he could become a free agent, the hulking No. 1 defenseman told his agent he wanted to sign a long-term extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning the first day he could. Hedman put pen to paper on an eight-year contract well before the sun went down.

”It was never a doubt,” Hedman said that day. ”Staying in Tampa was the No. 1 priority.”

Patrice Bergeron felt the same way when he signed his second, third and fourth contract with the Boston Bruins. Like Hedman, Bergeron wanted to stay with the organization that drafted and developed him for as long as possible while taking less money to surround himself with enough talent to win.

Now each player is on the road to joining an exclusive and growing club of players who reach 1,000 games with one team. Over the past week, Chicago’s Brent Seabrook and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin became the 49th and 50th players in NHL history to play their first 1,000 regular-season games with the same organization, and that group will welcome many members in the next several years as franchise building blocks lock in to long-term deals.

”You’re going to see it more often now,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ”Just the way the CBA is and the way the bigger names probably don’t move around as much as they did in earlier years.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Next season alone, longtime Seabrook defensive partner Duncan Keith and Bergeron are expected to join the one for 1,000 group, with Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu and Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar in reach of the milestone before the end of 2018-19 if they stay healthy. San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren’t far behind as this era of long-term stability produces a parade of silver-stick ceremonies for one-team foundation pieces.

”If you’re playing 1,000 games in one organization, you have to be a certain level of player,” said agent Kent Hughes, who represents Bergeron. ”It’s really significant because you’re talking about a series of contracts and we’re in a cap world and in order for that to happen in a lot of cases, I think there needs to be a little bit of give and take on both sides.”

In Ovechkin’s case, it was a $124 million, 13-year contract signed in early 2008 that then-NBA commissioner David Stern told Capitals owner Ted Leonsis he’d live to regret. The only regret now for Leonsis is not signing his face of the franchise for 15 years, and Ovechkin said if he could turn back time, he’d sign for 16 years.

Ovechkin is an anomaly in today’s NHL, where contract lengths were capped at eight years in the last round of collective bargaining talks. Since that CBA went into effect in January 2013, 33 different players have signed eight-year contracts – 28 of whom re-upped with his original team.

”It means a lot to any player to get off their career and say, ‘Well, look at this, I played 1,050 games with one team – my whole career, I’m one of the few,”’ said agent Peter Wallen, who counts one-team players Hedman, St. Louis forward Patrik Berglund and Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog among his clients. ”The only reason you will stay there for 1,000 games is that’s because you’re in the playoffs every year, you know your GM is giving you the opportunity to go deep in the playoffs and they want to win the Stanley Cup.”

The other most-recent players to reach 1,000 games with one team – Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and New Jersey’s Patrik Elias – all lifted the Stanley Cup, while Daniel and Henrik Sedin went to the 2011 final and were part of a perennial contender in Vancouver. It’s a delicate balance for teams between paying stars their value and maintaining roster flexibility to contend for several years.

”It’s difficult because you can’t let that key player go while he’s in the prime and you have to keep him content,” Hughes said. ”If the player doesn’t work with you, then it becomes more and more of a challenge to find a way to remain competitive.”

Yet the one-team, 1,000-game players should keep piling up with the likes of the Flyers’ Claude Giroux, Devils’ Travis Zajac, Bruins’ David Krejci, Kings’ Drew Doughty and possibly the Islanders’ John Tavares – if he re-signs this summer – on pace to hit the mark. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov could follow Ovechkin as the only players to get to 1,000 with the Capitals after none did it in the first 40-plus years of the franchise’s history.

”Organizations want to build a core group maybe, and that’s maybe why it’s so common these days that more guys stick with one team,” Backstrom said. ”For me, personally, I like that, and obviously not move around. But sometimes you can’t control it, either. I feel like we’ve been fortunate here that we’ve been here a long time, so I’m happy about that.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Should Ken Holland lead rebuild for Red Wings?

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If the Detroit Red Wings are going to turn their fortunes around, it’s going to be Ken Holland remaining at the controls.

Holland, who’s been general manager of the team since 1997, will be back at the helm according to three Detroit outlets. MLive.com, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News are all citing sources saying that ownership will not make a change after this season. Head coach Jeff Blashill, who has one more year left on his deal, is also expected to be back.

The Red Wings wrap up their season on April 7, so it should become official some time before the team breaks for the summer.

Holland entered the 2017-18 season without an extension, something that was routine business in year’s past. When that didn’t happen, and the Red Wings began to struggle again, he was firmly placed on the hot seat. After two decades in the GMs chair and three Stanley Cups, it’s been a good run, but with Christopher Illitch taking the ownership lead following his father’s death, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see a new face replacing Holland.

Since 2011, the Red Wings have only one playoff series victory and have now missed the postseason two straight years after a 25-year streak of getting into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With the likes of Julien BriseBois, Kyle Dubas, Paul Fenton, Tom Fitzgerald, Mike Futa, and Laurence Gilman among the names floating out there as possible future NHL GMs, you have to wonder why ownership has faith that Holland is the one to lead them out of their current mess when he’s the one who helped direct them down that way.

Their salary cap picture is not a good one, and while the ceiling is expected to rise for 2018-19, the Red Wings have some important young pieces — Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha — who are due raises as restricted free agents this summer. But while that extra room should help with re-signings, there are still the contracts of Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser, Darren Helm and Henrik Zetterberg — all Holland signings — that are long and eating a lot of space.

Holland’s rebuild efforts got off to a great start last month when he flipped Tomas Tatar and Petr Mrazek for draft picks. According to Cap Friendly, the Red Wings could have up to eight selections in the opening four rounds of this June’s entry draft and five in the first three rounds of the 2019 draft. That’s great for restocking the prospect cupboard or packaging in trades for young roster players who can aid in this rebuild.

But the hard part, identifying and securing talent, comes next.

“We’re not good enough quite right now,” Holland said last month. “For me, it’s about trying to acquire pieces that I think can have an impact on this team three, four years down the road in order to build a team that’s a playoff team, that’s got a young foundation. That’s the goal. Those are the decisions that I’m making.”

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Detroit Red Wings

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PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

Jordan WealValtteri FilppulaWayne Simmonds

Jori LehteraScott Laughton — Matt Read

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Travis Sanheim — Andrew MacDonald

Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Petr Mrazek

[Flyers – Red Wings preview]

Detroit Red Wings

Tyler BertuzziHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Darren HelmDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha

Justin AbdelkaderFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Evgeny Svechnikov — Luke GlendeningMartin Frk

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Jimmy Howard