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Zetterberg isn’t slowing down – and he's not going to until his body makes him

Henrik Zetterberg raised eyebrows when he suggested he might not play all four years left on his contract, but the Red Wings captain is off to a hot start and said he doesn’t plan on calling it a career any time soon.

In what can only be described as enormously good news for the Detroit Red Wings and their fans, captain Henrik Zetterberg has no plans to leave the organization in a terrible situation the way Pavel Datsyuk did. In fact, if Zetterberg is to be taken at his word – and there’s no reason to do anything but that given his character – it will be health and not contract status that will be the determining factor in how long he plays.

“It’s pretty simple,” Zetterberg told “When my body says, ‘Stop,' it’s over. I love doing what I’m doing, but I need my body to be able to do that. I will know when it’s over and hopefully there are many years left.” He was then specifically asked if he would retire in two years when his salary goes down to just $1 million, but his cap hit remains at $6.1 million.

“No,” Zetterberg said flatly. “As I said, when my body says stop, I will stop.”

This has to be a huge relief to the Red Wings, who would face massive cap recapture penalties if Zetterberg bails on the final two years of his deal. In fact, Zetterberg’s front-loaded deal was devised by Wings assistant GM Ryan Martin and was one of the reasons the league introduced that punitive measure in the last collective bargaining agreement. So likely what will happen is Zetterberg will play as long as he is healthy, perhaps beyond the end of next season. If he doesn’t play it will be because his body won’t let him, which means he’ll be placed on the long-term injured list (see Lupul, Joffrey or Hossa, Marian) and the Red Wings will be able to replace his cap hit without suffering cap implications.

“He just told me he’s going to see how he feels and his body is going to decide whether he can play or not,” said Red Wings GM Ken Holland. “Have you watched him? He’s our best player. Two things are going to decide what he’s doing. One, how he’s playing. Two, how’s his health? He’s doing everything he can to keep himself healthy and he’s a pro.” The prospect of playing only two more seasons came up this summer when Zetterberg told a Swedish radio station he “will probably not play until (2020-21when his contract expires)” and that his 12-year front-loaded deal was done, “to fool the system.” But the feeling is that Zetterberg realizes what a predicament he’d put the Wings in by retiring healthy and won’t leave the franchise high and dry. “I just want to make sure I leave this team in a good spot and let these guys take over,” Zetterberg said.

Health is certainly not an issue these days with the Red Wings captain. After undergoing serious back surgery in 2013-14, Zetterberg has missed only five games in the past three seasons and has played all 82 games in each of the past two. And as far as his level of play, his 37 years certainly don’t look to be robbing him of his talents. Zetterberg is as crafty with the puck when he has it – and as dogged on the puck when he doesn’t – as he ever was. In the Wings' 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, Zetterberg was dangerous in the offensive zone all night and scored a wraparound goal that highlighted his ability to both protect and possess the puck and be patient when it’s on his stick.

“I have some youth around me (linemates Anthony Mantha and Gustav Nyquist) that keeps me faster than I actually am,” Zetterberg said. “For me, the key is health. If I’m healthy, I can work off the ice and feel decent on the ice. And when I do that, I feel I can contribute.”

Even though the Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 26 years last season with Zetterberg wearing the ‘C,' coach Jeff Blashill constantly told his team not to forget the winning culture the Wings have established. And that culture begins and ends with Zetterberg, who is rapidly becoming one of the league’s most respected players.

“It’s culture of doing it right, it’s the culture of playing on the right side of the puck, it’s the culture of doing things that it takes to win,” Blashill said. “There are a lot of players in this league who score points, but don’t ever win. We’ve got one of the best winners of this generation that guys get to learn from every day.”

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