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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.

Henrik Zetterberg calls out Red Wings for playing ‘poke-and-hope’ hockey

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The Detroit Red Wings enjoyed 25 years of playoff hockey, but that streak came to a crashing halt last season and it looks like it’ll continue into this year. When veterans that are used to having on-ice success have to endure losing seasons, it becomes tough for them to digest. Henrik Zetterberg is one of those guys.

The Wings captain has won it all, but the frustrations of this season seem to be mounting for him. After Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, Zetterberg let it be known that he wasn’t impressed with the way some of the young players on his team were playing.

“There’s too much poke-and-hope on a lot of players,” Zetterberg said, per the Detroit Free Press. “If you want to be a solid good player in this league, and if you want to win something, you have to learn to play the right way.

“You have to play defense first. We have guys in here who have enough skill to create chances and get enough chances. You can’t force and gamble all the time. You have to do it right and eventually you will get chances. It’s not often you get chances when you cheat. Sometimes you will get rewarded but not in the long run.”

The 37-year-old Zetterberg didn’t name names, but it was clear that two of his potential targets were Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou.

Exhibit A:

For those of you wondering what “poke-and-hope” hockey is, head coach Jeff Blashill defines it pretty well:

“Poke-and-hope hockey is called 50-50 hockey,” Blashill told the Free Press. “It’s a way to lose tons of games. To me it’s a young mistake and we had enough young guys do it for sure. You basically poke and you hope that you get it and if you don’t get it they’re going to get a chance. Well, that’s not the way you win. You want to create chances without giving up chances. When you play poke-and-hope hockey you’re done.”

Poke-and-hope might be fun for fans, but it definitely doesn’t get teammates and coaches excited.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Malkin continues torrid pace

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Players of the Night:

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin scored two more goals on Friday, bringing his total over the past three games to seven. That’s a lot. Malkin is now four back of Alex Ovechkin, who also scored twice on Friday.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: This seems to be a trend when yours truly writes The Buzzer. Mrazek was great again on Friday, stopping 36-of-37. His past six starts have been remarkably good. Two shutouts and in five of those six outings, his save percentage was no less than .944.

Highlights of the Night:

The goal was good. The call was better.

Phil the Thrill:

Aho with the one-handed mid-air tap in.

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Penguins 7, Capitals 4

Red Wings 4, Hurricanes 1

Sharks 3, Blue Jackets 1

Wild 5, Golden Knights 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Zetterberg: Babcock leaving Detroit was best for both sides

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Henrik Zetterberg doesn’t exactly sound heartbroken about Mike Babcock’s departure from the Detroit Red Wings’ bench.

Perhaps that boils down to hearing the sound of Babcock’s voice for a decade.

“There’s a lot of guys in here who’ve been through the same stuff for many years,” Zetterberg told MLive.com on Thursday. “I think now with the additions of Green and Richards, and the new coach, it’s given us a little fresh start. Obviously, it’s going to be a different voice behind the bench and sometimes you need that.”

Jeff Blashill replacing Babcock as head coach isn’t the only thing that excites Detroit’s verstaile captain.

The 34-year-old also praised Mike Green as “the kind of defenseman we didn’t have” and seems happy about gaining another veteran voice in Brad Richards.

Considering the Red Wings’ recent – relative – struggles (especially two straight first-round exits and just one series win since 2011-12), one might also do the math about Zetterberg’s advancing age and what may appear to be diminishing returns.

Of course, with Pavel Datsyuk possibly out for a big chunk of the regular season and Babcock gone, many will shine the spotlight of blame on Zetterberg if the slightly-new-look Red Wings sputter early on.

Crosby, Toews, Weber, Price lead pack in NHL 16’s ratings

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After unveiling the top 10 goaltenders for the upcoming video game NHL 16, EA Sports has done the same for every other position.

As was the case last season, Sidney Crosby has the highest overall rating at 96, but there are some alterations after that. In 2015, Steven Stamkos ranked second overall with a 93 rating and he kept that rating for 2015-16, but he’s been leapfrogged by Jonathan Toews (94), Shea Weber (94), and Carey Price (94).

Pavel Datsyuk (93) and John Tavares (92) round out the top-five among centers. Both Detroit and Pittsburgh have two players in the top-10 with Henrik Zetterberg (92) and Evgeni Malkin (92) securing eighth and sixth place respectively.

As previously established, Weber leads the pack among defensemen and is followed by Duncan Keith (93), Drew Doughty (93), Ryan Suter (93), and Erik Karlsson (91). Nashville is the only team with two defensemen in the top-10 as Roman Josi (90) ranks ninth.

When it comes to right wingers, Corey Perry (92) got the top position, although he’s closely followed by Patrick Kane (92). Vladimir Tarasenko (91), Jakub Voracek (90), and Marian Hossa (90) make up the remainder of the top-five. Phil Kessel, who was traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh over the summer, saw his rating slip from 90 in 2014-15 to 89 following a rough campaign with the Maple Leafs.

When it comes to left wingers, it won’t surprise many to learn that Alex Ovechkin secured the top rating at 93. He’s followed by Jamie Benn (92), Taylor Hall (90), Zach Parise (90), and Max Pacioretty (89). The Dallas Stars’ acquisition of Patrick Sharp means that they now have two players in the top-10 as Sharp took the final place on that list with his 89 rating.

NHL 16 will be out on Sept. 15 in North America and Sept. 17 in Europe. If you want to see each position’s top-10 list, you can view them here.