GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet doesn’t toss respect around lightly. It must be earned with one of the grittiest and toughest point producers in NHL history.
Tocchet respects Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg. He missed the chance to play against Zetterberg by one season, but he has coached against him many times.
“I love those guys because they don’t have many bad games,” said Tocchet, who retired after the 2001-02 season. “There’s not a lot of peaks and valleys in their game. Every night, you know what you’re going to get from those types of guys. His pedigree is just incredible and he’s still got some good hockey left in him.”
How much left has been a topic of considerable discussion in Detroit. The 2017-18 Red Wings are not the Red Wings that Zetterberg was weaned on when he broke into the league in the 2002-03 season. That defending Stanley Cup champion team boasted a roster that included Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Datsyuk, Brendan Shanahan, Igor Larionov, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille.
This season’s roster is the first in 25 years to come off a playoff-less season. With longtime pillars Lidstrom and Datsyuk having moved on, Zetterberg is shouldering the lion’s share of responsibility in passing on the Red Wing torch.
“You want to leave it in a good place,” he said. “Me and [Niklas Kronwall] talked about it last season. When we came in, we looked up to the older guys. We’re in a different place than we were 15 years ago, but still, the traditions and what the Red Wings stand for, that’s what you want to transfer over to the young guys.
“All teams go through this. It’s part of the game, part of the salary cap era. You can’t keep teams together forever now and guys retire, but there has never been a complete tank here just so we can get high draft picks. Because of that, because of our success, you have to get lucky in the draft and be able to find the hidden gems to come in and produce right away. I think we have been slowly rebuilding on the fly.”
Zetterberg would like to see this process through. The greatest way to ensure that is by producing at an elite level, and he’s still doing that at age 36. He had 17 goals and 68 points last season to finish tied for 24th in the NHL in the latter category with San Jose’s Joe Pavelski.
Detroit is off to a 3-1 start this season and Zetterberg is doing his part. He scored his second goal of the season in a 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday at Gila River Arena. He has three points in four games.
“He’s a savvy, savvy player,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “He figures out different ways to be successful. I was an assistant with him seven, eight years ago and I wasn’t sure how many great years he had left and all of the sudden, the second half of that year, he was unreal. He carried the team to the playoffs a number of years in a row there.”
Blashill credits Zetterberg with keeping the young Wings on task last season when the longest active playoff streak in the four major professional North American sports finally ended.
Zetterberg wants to start a new streak before he goes. As long as we’re on that topic, Zetterberg knows there has been speculation he will leave Detroit before the final four years of his contract have expired. That is not his wish.
“It’s my body that is going to decide, but I’m not going to play anywhere else, that’s for sure,” he said. “The last few years have been decent, health-wise. I’ve played all the games the last two years so as long as I keep that up, and I am physically able to go out and play well, I will play.
“It would be pretty awesome to play until you’re 40. Except [Jaromir Jagr], you don’t see that too much. This is what I’ve been doing all my life. You want to stay in this. There is nothing better. You’re playing in front of 20,000 fans every night. You play in one organization your whole career. It’s something that you would miss.”