Was there ever any question the Detroit Red Wings
would find a way to get Henrik Zetterberg
, last season's Conn Smythe Trophy winner, locked up for the long term before he reached unrestricted free agency this summer?
Despite economic hardships and a rigid salary cap, the Wings once again have worked their magic, signing Zetterberg to a 12-year contract extension Wednesday morning that will allow him to stay with the club through his 40th birthday and the 2020-21 season.
"I'm a very happy man, and I'm also happy I won't have to go through this again," Zetterberg said. "I'm glad I'll be spending the rest of my career here. Since the start, the Red Wings have always taken good care of me. There are good players here and they all want to win and that's a big reason why I wanted to stay."
In his sixth season with the Wings, the 28-year-old native of Njurunda, Sweden, has 17 goals and 43 points in 45 games. He also has 7 power-play goals, is plus-11 and has recorded 11 multi-point games.
He considers Detroit his home away from home now.
"Michigan sort of reminds me of Sweden, especially today," Zetterberg said on a cloudy, 23-degree day. "I never had any thoughts of moving and I wanted to stay here, and that's what I told my agent (Marc Levine) from the start. I wanted to find a way to make it forever and we did. I believe I still have 12 years left in me, and I don't want to play anywhere else. I also wanted to make sure these were the last negotiations taking place."
The Wings are equally happy to have locked up Zetterberg for the long term.
"He's a guy we want to build around and we feel that between Henrik and Pavel (Datsyuk), we have two of the best two-way forwards in the game," Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. "He's in his prime, he's won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy. He plays at both ends of the rink and goes to all the hard areas. He can play left wing and score and play the middle and be just as effective. He gives us flexibility and is a leader, a guy who, when Nick Lidstrom retires, is certainly someone we'll have to consider as the next captain for the Red Wings."
The salary cap implications are such that Holland believes he can sign one of his two other impending unrestricted free agents, Marian Hossa
and Johan Franzen
. Holland said he has had initial discussions with the agents for both players.
"Obviously the question that'll be asked is 'Was it the smartest thing to do given our economy?'" Holland said. "In the end, we structured a contract that we thought would ensure Henrik's security while giving us a cap number that, no matter if the cap goes down or holds, allows us to get other top players.
"Really, we have cap space to sign maybe one more player between now and July 1, depending on who we want to sign. But certainly there's not enough cap space to sign both Franzen and Hossa. Eventually you reach a point where you run out of cap space, so we'll take a breather now and decide our next move."
This move certainly made Wings coach Mike Babcock happy.
"The thing you notice about Hank is his determination and will," he said. "I've always believed that when you line him up against a guy in a series, he'll wear him out and to me, that's leadership. I think Nicklas Lidstrom
and the contract he signed set a bar for our team and basically allowed us to surround ourselves with good players. Now that's what 'Z' is doing. I'm proud to be his coach. He's made me a better coach and he's made his teammates better as well."
Last season, Zetterberg led the Wings to the Stanley Cup by posting career highs of 43 goals, 49 assists and 92 points. He followed that with 13 goals in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including the game-winning goal in the Cup-clinching Game 6 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins
. He tied for the lead among all playoff performers in goals and points (27), and his plus-16 was tops among all players.
"I'm a very happy man today," Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said. "I was so proud of Henrik during the Stanley Cup Final and how he went toe-to-toe with Sidney Crosby
and showed the grit and the toughness of the European player that wasn't supposed to win a Stanley Cup, but did."
In 400 NHL games, Zetterberg has 169 goals and 375 points. He has 28 goals and 52 points in 62 playoff games.
"Obviously we wanted to keep him and he wanted to stay, but that doesn't necessarily mean you won't run the risk that things could fall apart," Holland said. "Discussions with Marc Levine started at the 2008 Draft. As you're negotiating, both sides look at other contracts around the League that play into the thought process, but we stuck with it and both sides were creative."
Holland was creative with the length of the deal, while Zetterberg and Levine were creative on accepting a fair cap number that allowed him to remain a Red Wing.
"Over the last 2-3 weeks, we started to settle in on 10, 11 and 12 years, and finally decided to put a contract together that would take him from 28 years old to 40,'' Holland said.
The GM doesn't feel this contract has established a benchmark for the rest of the League heading into the summer. Besides Hossa and Franzen, other top-flight unrestricted free agents that could be available include Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester
, and a pair of Minnesota players, forward Marian Gaborik
and goalie Niklas Backstrom
"I don't think we've set a benchmark as there have been other deals made to (Vincent) Lecavalier, (Eric) Staal and (Alex) Ovechkin where teams were thinking long-term,'' Holland said. "We're not the first. We took all those other contracts and looked at the cap. The (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin deals were shorter with bigger cap numbers and we wanted a lower cap number. At the same time, Henrik wanted some security being in Detroit -- and we found a way to get it done."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.