Welcome to a new summer series on Last Word On Hockey. In preparation for the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21st, LWOH’s Detroit Red Wings Department will be going in depth on every Wing that is eligible to be picked by the newest NHL squad, the Vegas Golden Knights, who will begin play in the fall. The team will likely follow the seven-forward, three-defensemen, and one goalie format of protecting players, and this series will follow suit with that. For a brush-up on the expansion draft rules, click this link. Without further adieu, let us begin this series with Captain Henrik Zetterberg.
Center/Left Wing, Shoots Left
6’0″, 197 lbs
Age: 37 (On October 9)
Cap hit: $6.1 million, four years remaining
Reasons for Protection
Zetterberg has earned his place in Red Wing lore. 1000 career games, 326 goals, 904 points, as well as a likely spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. This is all even more impressive given where he was drafted (7th round, 210th overall). He took on the tremendous honor of captain in 2013. He has battled to come back in top physical form three years removed from back surgery. That surgery slowed him down until this season. This past year was Zetterberg’s best in a while, as he totaled 17 goals and 68 points, 18 more of the latter than the previous season and the most since 2011-12 (69).
Defensively, on a team that put of a 45.35% Corsi-for percentage, Zetterberg was nearly a full four percentage points better at 49.13%. He was second only to Tomas Tatar. The Wings will need an experienced face going into Little Caesar’s Arena in the fall. The leadership core of the team would be shaken if Zetterberg were left unprotected and snatched by Las Vegas. Besides, the team would probably rather get something for Zetterberg than lose him for nothing if they were to go the trade route in the next few years.
Reasons for Exposing
On the same card, the team should not expect Zetterberg to produce at the rate of last year. He is getting up in age and the average cap hit left on his contract will bite the team sooner rather than later. Leaving Z open at the chance of getting $6 million-plus left each year for the next four off the books would do wonders for the Red Wings. The team is already strapped financially with awful contracts up front and on defense. This opens opportunities to pursue free agent defenseman-to-be Kevin Shattenkirk. It also puts them on the market for free agents who may be available next year including John Tavares; Cam Fowler; or even Marc-Edouard Vlasic next summer to accelerate the rebuild.
The Red Wings have other contracts that they can leave unprotected come late June. Zetterberg should not be one of them. It will be key to have a stabilizing force down the middle as Dylan Larkin matures into a top-six center that the team hopes he will be. If the team falters again next season and ends up with a solid pick come next June, it will be important to have guys like Zetterberg (not too many) to pass the torch. Leaving the captain of the franchise unprotected is not Ken Holland-like, either, so he Zetterberg will be at the top of the protection list when Vegas is on the clock.
Check back tomorrow as the blueline comes into play with Mike Green‘s evaluation.