DETROIT – In a NHL career that spanned 21-seasons, four-time Stanley Cup winning defenseman Larry Murphy played with a number of truly great team captains, including hall-of-famers like Steve Yzerman, Doug Gilmour, Ron Francis and Mario Lemieux.
A hall-of-famer himself, Murphy believes that with the ordination of Henrik Zetterberg as the 36th captain in franchise history, the Red Wings have selected a veteran forward with a commanding pedigree, who will continue to demonstrate a unique combination of skill and leadership.
“What I see in him is a player with a lot of poise, composure, the ability to come up big in crucial situations, great work ethic, somebody that the players really respect,” Murphy said. “I wouldn’t put him in the rah-rah category, but he’s somebody whose words are meaningful and very affective.”
Since Nicklas Lidstrom announced last summer that he was retiring from the game after 20 seasons – including the last six as the Wings’ captain – the spotlight of speculation shined on Zetterberg as the obvious choice to take the leadership reins.
It was apparent that Zetterberg was being groomed as Lidstrom’s successor when four years ago the Red Wings made a long-term commitment to the former seventh-round draft pick. During the 2008-09 season, the Wings announced that they signed Zetterberg to a 12-year deal worth $73 million, which is the longest and most-lucrative contract in club history.
HISTORY OF DRW CAPTAINS
The trust and respect that the organization and teammates have for him speaks volumes for Zetterberg, who was a virtual unknown in most hockey circles before 1999, when the Wings used the 210th pick in the NHL draft on him. Since the league instituted the amateur draft in 1963, Zetterberg is just the 11th drafted player appointed team captain of the Wings.
Whether or not Zetterberg feels he must reprove himself in his new role as the franchise’s next captain, Murphy isn’t so sure, saying he believes the Swedish center authenticated those traits years ago.
“One of the things that management considers is how will the player deal with it?” Murphy said. “But Zetterberg is a guy that has the stuff, and he’ll take it in full stride and excel in that role. He’s mentally tough and he’ll be able to deal with it.
“For me, I still don’t know how he got picked so low, that’s how I look at it.”
While every captain prefers to lead in his own way, Murphy expects Zetterberg may be like two greats that he played with on Stanley Cup winning teams in Pittsburgh and Detroit.
“He’s a guy whose actions speak volumes, a guy like Mario Lemieux,” Murphy said. “Mario was a guy who was very selective in what he said, and in his play he was a guy that would go out there and you could count on him in critical situations to lead the charge. I look at him and I look at Stevie Yzerman in the same sense as they led by example quite a bit. Like Zetterberg, they each had something to say, but they live the game on and off the ice and they’re leaders in that department. Guys really respect that and that’s the type of captain you want.”
Zetterberg has paid his dues, a nine-year veteran, who received NHL All-Rookie honors in 2003, was named to the second team NHL All-Star Team following the 2007-08 season, and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy en route to the Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup championship.
His involvement in the community – whether it’s the annual smoke detector collection campaign or the suite that he and his wife, Emma, donates every game to families of ill children – is another quality that strengthens Zetterberg’s leadership abilities.
“It was apparent that he was captain material early in his career,” Murphy said. “He’s a thinking player, very committed, a guy that doesn’t have a lot of fluff to him, who when he has something to say it’s substantial.”
Twelve former Red Wings captains are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, soon to be a baker’s dozen once Lidstrom is eligible for induction in 2015. But following the combined legacy of Yzerman and Lidstrom could be daunting for the second European captain to lead the club.
“Not obviously the best situation that you’re going to walk into because he’s going to be compared,” Murphy said. “In his favor though is the culture of the organization. It’s well-managed, well-run and everybody takes pride in the Red Wings’ sweater, so to that extent that will help him.
“But he’ll be his own captain. Just look at those two guys and I’m sure he’ll take some things from them that he saw as a player and utilize them. But he will be his own man.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose