Henrik Zetterberg, the 21st member of the vaunted Triple Gold Club, has been forced to retire because of a back injury that won’t heal. The four-time Olympian spent his entire 15-year NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings and represented Sweden many times on the international stage.
Detroit GM Ken Holland explained that Zetterberg’s injury is degenerative. There is arthritis and pain, and no surgery can fix the problem. Rest and rehab also won’t work, and after a couple of years of increasing pain, the decision has really been made for Zetterberg. He retires as one of the team’s greatest players of the modern era.
In looking back, one can see a career that would be the envy of every hockey player, but as a teen his future was anything but assured. He wasn’t drafted in 1999 until the 210th selection, a low position that would suggest “long shot” more than “sure thing.”
Indeed, after that draft, Zetterberg went back to his tier 2 team in Timra for another season and then played two more years with that team’s senior squad before coming to the NHL.
While in Sweden he was developing into a star player, and at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake he was one of only three non-NHLers to be named to Tre Kronor’s team. A year earlier he had helped Sweden win bronze at the World Championship.
Zetterberg joined the Red Wings when they were near the peak of their powers. The team was Swedish-heavy and one of the most international in league history, and the Wings were a perennial presence in the playoffs.
Zetterberg was one of the team’s top scorers, and a sporting player as well. He had his finest international year in 2006 when he helped Tre Kronor win Olympic gold in Turin and just a few weeks later World Championship gold in Latvia. This was the first time a team had achieved this double, and Zetterberg was one of only seven players on both teams.
In the NHL, he reached the top in 2007/08. He had a career year in the regular season, scoring 43 goals and recording 92 points, and in the playoffs he was the most dominant player, leading the post-season in scoring and guiding the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup. For his great play he was named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
That Mike Babcock-coached team had 12 Europeans on it, more than any other Cup-winning team in league history, and Zetterberg became just the seventh European to score the Cup-winning goal.
That Cup win made him a member of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club, and although the Wings didn’t come particularly close to winning the Cup again after that, they made the playoffs every year Zetterberg was with the team excepting the last two (when that back injury made him a bit slower and less effective than in his prime).
In all, Zetterberg played in 1,082 regular-season games in the NHL (and another 137 in the playoffs) and recorded 960 points. For his country, he played at one World Junior Championship, six World Championships, four Olympics, and the 2004 World Cup.