DETROIT – For the past seven years – even before the Red Wings won their last Stanley Cup – Henrik Zetterberg was afflicted by chronic lower-back pain.
Though the pain never reached intolerable levels, Zetterberg muddled through, managing it with specific core-strengthening workouts and some chiropractic procedures as he played in 95 percent of the games for six seasons.
Then, one morning last February in Sochi, Russia, the tipping point occurred. The worrisome disc ruptured, leaving Zetterberg bed ridden and immersed in debilitating pain. At that moment he knew surgery was his only recourse.
“Last year was not the first year I had issues with my back,” Zetterberg said Thursday. “It’s just that last year it came to that point that I had to have my surgery. I think it’s been off and on for a few years now, and it’s nice to come in and feel good and not think about that and just go out and play hockey.”
Zetterberg is among a handful of players who have participated daily in voluntary practices at Joe Louis Arena since last month. On Thursday, he was one of 23 players from the organization who skated.
The good think, he said, after a month of workouts, he’s pain-free.
“I feel good. It’s been a good summer rehabbing and off-ice workouts, so I’m really excited to get back at it here,” Zetterberg said. “The surgery that I had, that part of the back is healed. I can do everything on the ice and in the weight room; had a really good summer workout-wise, so I look forward to seeing what results that will give me.”
Zetterberg missed the last half of the 2013-14 season, though he returned in time to play in the final two games of the playoff-opening series against the Boston Bruins. Though he wasn’t at 100 percent, Zetterberg still produced a goal and two points with limited mobility.
“My back was good (but) I had some issues,” he said. “The nerve was a little too slow to come back, but obviously I was happy to be back.”
Injuries decimated the Red Wings’ roster for the past two seasons. But last year, significant injuries to Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk topped the list of 418 man games lost to injury.
Now, as players return from injury, particularly centers Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Stephen Weiss, the coaching staff will have tough roster decisions to make before the season opener on Oct. 9.
“Zetterberg is feeling great and Datsyuk is feeling great and Darren Helm,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Helmer is feeling as good as he has felt, so that’s a big deal for us. That’s three centers for us, whether we move Helmer to the wing or not I don’t know the answer to that because we got (Riley) Sheahan and (Luke) Glendening and Andy (Joakim Andersson), we got all these centers. Someone’s playing on the wing.”
The Red Wings did come under fire this summer for not acquiring a right-handed shooting defenseman or a top-six forward in free agency. But Zetterberg sees the team improving through health.
“Hopefully this year we can stay healthy and play with a team that we want to play with. We haven’t made a lot of changes. I don’t see that as a bad thing,” he said. “We have a good group in here. We just have to keep it together and stay healthy.
“If you look at last year, there weren’t a lot of games where we had a full lineup. Hopefully if we have that this year we will see improvement.”