The news that a herniated disc forced Henrik Zetterberg to withdraw from the Olympics was not only a blow to Sweden's men's hockey team, but also to the Detroit Red Wings.
The injury-ravaged Red Wings currently cling to the last wild card berth in the Eastern Conference, with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils nipping at their heels. They'll need their key players healthy if they're to hold off these challengers and clinch a playoff spot.
Zetterberg, 33, missed 13 NHL games this season to back pain, yet he leads the Red Wings in goals (16), assists (32), points (48), shots (151) and plus-minus (plus-19). He's also second in power play points (17), third in faceoff wins (259) and sixth in ice time (20:33).
Sweden's team doctor claimed Zetterberg's season could be over, but that remains to be seen. He will return to Detroit this week for further evaluation. The Wings' playoff chances would be significantly hampered if their captain underwent season-ending back surgery. In fact, it may force GM Ken Holland into the trade market in search of short-term help.
MLive.com's Ansar Khan responded to his readers' questions about that possibility. He observed the trade market is limited, with only five teams (Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers and the New York Islanders) considered to be sellers.
Center Stephen Weiss ($4.9-million annual cap hit) is expected to come off long-term injured reserve (LTIR) following the Olympics, which would limit the Wings cap space. Khan pointed out that could be rectified by placing Zetterberg ($6 million) on LTIR. He noted, however, the trade options are slim and expensive.
The Red Wings are a team in transition this season. They've been hampered by injuries, while promising players such as Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Danny DeKeyser are still adjusting to the NHL level. Attempting to land a playoff rental such as Thomas Vanek or Mike Cammalleri would likely cost them one of those young players, a top prospect or their first round pick.
Zetterberg's absence and the apparent lack of a viable short-term replacement puts the Red Wings’ 22-year playoff streak in jeopardy. However, the expected return of Weiss and possibly winger Johan Franzen (concussion) after the Olympics should give them a boost. If key players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard remain healthy, the Wings still have a decent chance of keeping their playoff streak alive.
GM Ken Holland could also opt to take the long view and stick with the current lineup minus Zetterberg. If he does make a move by the deadline it could be for an affordable depth player.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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