Success in hockey, perhaps more than any other team sport, requires individual leadership to emerge from within the team.
A single man with a letter “C” stitched onto his jersey has the ability to define a team’s work ethic, style and even its very identity. A team’s coach can try to install any system he wants and preach about hard work and sacrifice until he’s blue in the face. But more often than not, it’s the team’s captain executing on the coach’s plans that really sets the tone on the bench and on the ice.
Zetterberg is currently ranked third in league scoring with 28 points (10G, 18A) and is on pace to match his career-best record of 92 points set in the 2007-08 season.
He is a team-best plus-10 and leads the team by a country mile in shots with 91.
Looking beyond the stats, Zetterberg is virtually incapable of giving anything less than 100 percent every shift and displays a determination and work ethic that outpaces his opponents on most nights.
While his team is struggling to score goals, execute on both sides of the puck, consistently generate shots on net and display the requisite work ethic to win games, Zetterberg is doing all of the above night in and night out.
As far as coaching is concerned, head coach Mike Babcock could simply sit his team down, pull videos of Zetterberg at random, point at the screen and say, “Do that” and be hard pressed to find a better way to instruct his team.
Zetterberg personifies the very system Mike Babcock is trying to install throughout the whole of his team, so why isn't it working?
Don’t misunderstand the point, Zetterberg is an outstanding captain, and his leadership skills have him on the short list of players that may lead the Swedish National Team in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Much like his predecessors in Nicklas Lidstrom and especially Steve Yzerman, under whose wing the young Swede was taken back in 2002 for the very purpose of preparing him to one day inherit the “C”, Zetterberg is the quintessential lead-by-example Detroit Red Wings captain.
Sure, Zetterberg possesses immense talent that few players in the world, let alone his team, can match.
However, just like Lidstrom and Yzerman before him, it’s his commitment to the fundamentals, hard work and consistent effort that makes him as successful as he is—talent, as they say, can only take you so far.
So, all this being said, why is Johan Franzen consistently taking shifts off game in and game out, why does Dan Cleary have only 31 shots in 24 games, and why hasn’t center Stephen Weiss adequately adapted to a system so perfectly exemplified by the play of his captain?
Well, I suppose if the answer was knowable, these questions wouldn't be asked in the first place.
The Detroit Red Wings have an outstanding example to follow in their captain, but have yet to follow his lead.
How long it will take for them to do so is anyone’s guess; that they have a near-perfect leader in Henrik Zetterberg is beyond question.