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Notes: Blashill expresses doubt about Zetterberg's future

If captain is unable to play, Wings likely to return Athanasiou to center

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- There continues to be signs pointing to the end of an amazing career.

The Detroit Red Wings will wait until captain Henrik Zetterberg arrives at training camp and takes his physical before making anything official, but things aren't looking very promising with camp just a few weeks away.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill, speaking after the Stars and Stripes Showdown at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., said he has spoken to Zetterberg this summer.

"Henrik's message to me is that his back has not reacted well, that he hasn't had an opportunity to really train," Blashill said. "For me, I said this publicly the other day, there's lots of doubt because I don't know how you go through not being able to train and then be able to play an NHL season. I think it's almost impossible. All signs indicate to me right now that it'll be very difficult for Henrik to be able to play."

Justin Abdelkader has not spoken to Zetterberg this summer and he's trying to remain hopeful.

"We hope that Z's around, he's a great player, he's a great person, he's done so much for the organization," Abdelkader said. "We'll see what happens, we'll see when that comes. You lean on your leadership, we have a lot of veteran guys that have a lot of experience in the room."

Zetterberg, who turns 38 on Oct. 9, had to withdraw from the Olympics to undergo back surgery four years ago.

Although Zetterberg has played all 82 games in each of the last three seasons, it was a real struggle to do so this past season.

He had to forego practices the second half of the season to play in games.

"He gutted it out for two months at the end of the year and it was amazing to see," Blashill said. "But it's one thing to gut it out for two months, it's another thing when you haven't been able to train at all to be able to play an NHL season. I know it's been a real hard summer and I know there's obviously, as I said publicly, lots of doubt to where he'll be at. So he'll come into camp, he'll do his physical and we'll see where he's at."

The Wings are preparing for either scenario, that Zetterberg somehow finds an elixir for his back and is able to play or the more likely scenario that he will not be able to.

"As the summer's gone, it certainly looks like he wouldn't be available right away. If he's not available, we believe that with Dylan (Larkin), with Frans (Nielsen), with (Andreas) Athanasiou, with (Luke) Glendening, that would move Athanasiou probably to center just to start the training camp," Blashill said. "That, to me, is his natural position anyway. The only thing that he has to do better at that position is make sure that he wins face-offs. But that, to me, is a position that I'd feel totally confident putting him in and I think he could do a good job."

Michael Rasmussen, the Wings' first-round pick, ninth overall, in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, will be given every opportunity to make the team this fall, as will Filip Zadina, the team's first-round pick, sixth overall, in this past June's draft.

Rasmussen's natural position is center but that doesn't mean he will play there for the Wings if he makes the team.

"I certainly wouldn't say I wouldn't consider him, that's not the case at all," Blashill said. "But two things to me. One, I think it's way easier to break into the National Hockey League as a winger than a centerman, that's a lot of responsibility to put on a guy. The second thing I'd say is when he plays wing, he might be net-front more in the O-zone than when he doesn't play wing. His best attribute for sure is how good he is at the net-front. He might end up being a winger in the National Hockey League, I don't know that answer. I know that he's outstanding in front of the net. I certainly wouldn't want to do anything to take away from that. So if it eases him in by allowing him to be a winger and putting the focus on being net-front in the O-zone, then that's what we'll do."

Although Darren Helm could also play center, Blashill said for now he intends to leave him at wing.

"I know that's obviously a move that we could make but my thought process going into camp would be to keep him on the wing," Blashill said. "We tried him at center a little bit but then we've had him on the wing so much, he's played so much wing over the last few years that I just think the continuity of it for him is important. So right now my plan would be to keep him on the wing. But we'll see. We'll see how camp goes."

Blashill was asked if Zetterberg might be able to join the team later in the season if he's not ready to go in camp.

"If he comes into camp and is in a spot where he's not cleared, I wouldn't plan on him for the rest of the year," Blashill said. "That would be my take because I don't know how you go from not being able to train, not being able to train and then not cleared to all of a sudden being cleared. That would be my thought process would be that he's either going to get to a point where he can play or he can't play. And if it's a point where he can't play, then we'll continue to move on without him."

Former Wings assistant Tony Granato, currently the head coach at the University of Wisconsin, had only good things to say when asked about Detroit's captain.

"He is a remarkable person," Granato said. "That's the one thing that I will always remember from the chance and I think the privilege I had to be around him for a couple of years. You hear about him and you respected him for how hard he played and how he represented himself, but to be with him for two years and to see what he was like and to get the chance to know him was very, very special. There's one of the greatest of all-times as far as a captain, as far as a person and just a guy to be around. That's the one thing that the Wings have been so fortunate to have - they had (Nick) Lidstrom, they had (Steve) Yzerman - they had so many character guys. Pav (Pavel Datsyuk) was unreal, too. They're all similar like that.

"So I think that's the one thing that made him special. He battled through injuries the last few years. Last year he played great. The last year that I was here we were wondering how he was going to battle through the stuff he's going through now to be an effective player again, and he found a way."

REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD: Blashill and Granato had fun being back on the bench together again as coaches for Team White in the Stars and Stripes Showdown.

"Those are fun games to coach," Blashill said, while acknowledging not much coaching went on. "It was great. I got a chance to talk to some guys I don't know very well so that was fun. Tony's one of the best people I know in hockey so it was great to be able to spend some time with him."

Granato said he and Blashill spent some time together in Lake Placid, New York, for a recent USA Hockey event.

"We had fun together our year together here," Granato said. "I think he's an outstanding coach. I'm hoping this year is a big year for the Wings. I think the young skill that they have and the plan that they have in place is exciting. Obviously, things have to go their way but it could be a big year for them. I think last year there was teams -- you look at Winnipeg, you look at Vegas, you look at some other franchises and you can kind of see that the Wings might have some of that in them. Hopefully it will be a year for them like that."

EAVES IN TOWN: Patrick Eaves, who played for the Wings from 2009-14, played for Team White during the Stars and Stripes Showdown.

Eaves, who missed most of last season with the Anaheim Ducks because of a mystery illness that was eventually characterized as post-viral syndrome, had an assist in the game.

"We had a lot of fun, Patrick and Nick Foligno," Abdelkader said. "I only see Patrick every once in a while, He still spends time in Detroit but I think this will be his last summer. It's always great seeing him. I had some great years playing with him. He's a great person."

ST. CYR IMPRESSES: Because Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was unable to play in the game, Notre Dame goaltender Dylan St. Cyr, a native of Northville, Mich., took his spot.

St. Cyr, the son of former goaltender Manon Rheaume, faced 34 Team White shots in two periods and allowed just six goals.

Tweet from @usahockey: Not sure how, but @Dylan37St keeps this out of the net! #ForJJBlue now leading White 7-3 with less than 10 left in the 2nd. Stream:

"Actually maybe the star of the show might have been Dylan St. Cyr, who plays at Notre Dame," Blashill said. "He was excellent. It was a fun event, it was a great event."

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