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'C' for Z; Red Wings name new captain

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Swedish stars Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg were the first two Europeans to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Lidstrom was the first in 2002; followed by Zetterberg in '08. (Photo by Getty Images)

PLYMOUTH, Mich.Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, and now Henrik Zetterberg.

Since 1986, Red Wings’ fans have only known two team captains – Yzerman and Lidstrom. And Tuesday – during a locally televised intra-squad scrimmage at Compuware Arena – they were introduced to the third captain in 26 seasons, and 36th all-time in franchise history.

“It’s a great choice, Wings forward Daniel Cleary said. “The biggest thing for me is that he's so unselfish. He's such a personable guy. He's a star. He's got great talent on the ice, but he's very respectful off the ice and he's vocal when he needs to be and he leads by example.”

When it comes to speaking his mind, the 32-year-old Zetterberg is probably more like Yzerman than his fellow countryman. Zetterberg isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, and because of that, coupled with his immense talent, he garners plenty of respect from both teammates and coaches.

“He and I have a relationship where he doesn’t mind getting mad at me and I don’t mind getting mad at him,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t have any problem with that. He doesn’t mind standing up for the guys and telling you want he thinks. And I think that’s so important for us.”

Practically every year since winning the 2002 Stanley Cup with a roster comprised by a litany of future hall-of-famers, so called hockey experts have forecasted a decline for the Red Wings. Fortunately, while players like Yzerman, Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille have moved on, Wings general manager Ken Holland has continued to find pieces that have complimented an always strong core of talented players.

The Red Wings’ success is in the numbers. Since the 1999-00 season, they have produced a NHL-record 12 straight 100-point campaigns, while capturing the Stanley Cup two times, the President’s Trophy four times and the Central Division title nine times

And Zetterberg has played his part in the Wings’ success since his arrival to Hockeytown in 2002. In nine seasons, the Swedish star has bolted up the franchise’s all-time scoring lists. He’s currently ranked No. 10 in goals (252), assists (372) and points (624), and he’s fourth all-time with 50 game-winning goals, trailing only Yzerman (94), Shanahan (79) and Fedorov (63).

In the playoffs, Zetterberg has routinely ramped up his game, producing 51 goals and 51 assists, and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2008 playoff MVP.

“Hank was around Stevie and then he was around Nick,” Babcock said. “I mean, to me, those guys, Pavel (Datsyuk), all of those guys have been around winning. You don’t win by accident.

“We’re in the playoffs all of the time, we’re had some heart-breaking years where we thought we had a real good time and it didn’t happen. Other years we’ve gone a long way. The reality is you’ve been around winning you learn what winning is about and that’s your best people being your best people and leading in the weight room and leading in off-ice and leading in nutrition department. So the bottom line is he’s seen it all. He’s like a coach on the ice. He has a real good read of the game.”

Consistency is another reason for the Wings’ success, and the leader in the locker room has always played an stabilizing role that many NHL clubs haven’t managed to duplicate. Since Yzerman was named captain there have been more than 260 players who have worn the ‘C’ for their respective NHL clubs. That’s 9.1 captains per franchise during that timeframe, which means franchises see a captaincy change every 2.85 seasons.

But not in Detroit.

“I think Hank's been groomed to be our captain for many, many years now,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Ever since he got in here, he sat beside Stevie and learned a lot from him. Hank, he's been a captain for many years even though he hasn't had the 'C.' Of course we had Nick but Hank is just as good a leader and he brings it every night. That's what you want from your leader.”

That’s what the Red Wings want from their leader.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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