Oh Captain, Our Captain
According to Red Wings Head Coach Jeff Blashill, long-time captain Henrik Zetterberg career looks to be over good. He told the press Tuesday that he will miss the first part of the season due to pain stemming from a history of back issues.
“I will need more answers from doctors before I say I have played my last game,” Zetterberg said. “In my mind, I am hoping it can get solved.”
“I don’t want to think I have played my last game. To me, it’s still early to say that. But obviously, I’ve been through this for the last few years, and I know it’s a thin line.”
Zetterberg has been captain for over five years, after taking over for Nicklas Lidstrom back in 2013. The Red Wings are already in such a weird time in their franchise, and the news about Zetterberg doesn’t make things any easier. The Red Wings must decide on who takes the captain position if Zetterberg does retire, but the passing of the torch isn’t that easy. Here are a few options for the Red Wings to weigh.
Niklas Kronwall is the clear-cut candidate and most probable option that the Red Wings can choose for the captain position. The long-tenured veteran, who will be 38 heading into this season, is approaching the end of his contract, which most likely means the end of his career. Kronwall has dealt with knee injuries for a vast amount of his tenure, so there’s a chance he could miss some time down the road during the season. Despite this, he’s the Red Wings best option to wear the C this season. This move would be widely accepted by fans, as Kronwall has played his entire 15-year NHL career in Detroit. This move will also go over well in the locker room, as Kronwall brings a veteran presence and serves as a role model for his teammates.
The 2018-19 season will mark Justin Abdelkader’s 12th NHL season with the Red Wings. Only Zetterberg, Kronwall, Darren Helm and Jimmy Howard have been with the Wings longer. Abdelkader has played 619 games with the Wings so far, which is close to the number of games Zetterberg played with the Wings before taking over for Nicklas Lindstrom as captain. Moving Abdelkader to captain would make sense, and it would make sense in a locker room perspective, but it might confuse fans. Abdelkader is a good option, but not the best.
Dylan Larkin is a massive piece in the future of this franchise. If Larkin becomes captain, he would be the second youngest captain in Red Wings history, trailing that of only Steve Yzerman, who became captain at age 21. Larkin would also sit 8th youngest captain in NHL history (McDavid, Landeskog, Crosby, Lecavalier, Toews, Yzerman, Schoenfeld). Larkin is just 22, so it might be a little bit too early to pull the trigger on making him captain, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for Detroit. The move will happen eventually, but if the Wings feel the time is right, there wouldn’t be many objections.
Running with No Captain or Co-Captains
Four NHL teams played without an official captain in 2017-18: The Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights. Those four teams played with multiple alternate captains but never had a specified captain in place. The Red Wings could make Dylan Larkin an alternate captain and run with three alternates, but the Red Wings have had a designated captain since their inaugural season back in 1926-27.
The other option for them to run would be to use co-captains. The Wings did this back in the 1980-81 season, where Errol Thompson and Reed Larson served as co-captains. It is highly unlikely the Red Wings use either of these routes as an option, but if needed, this could be an alternative if for some reason the Wings can’t decide on a captain by the start of the season.
Zetterberg hasn’t officially hung his skates up, but things aren’t looking good. We can hope for the best, but the Red Wings need to have a plan. The crowning of the next captain should be made a big deal and should honor the legacy and hard work that Zetterberg put forward while wearing the C on his jersey like all of those before him.