How Bleak Is Detroit Red Wings' 2013-14 Outlook with Henrik Zetterberg Out?

Matt HutterAnalyst IFebruary 16, 2014

Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg (40) of Sweden is tripped by Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19), of Sweden, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Henrik Zetterberg’s attempt to lead Team Sweden to Olympic gold ended nearly as quickly as it began.

After leading his team to a 4-2 victory over the Czech Republic in the opening game of the tournament, Zetterberg was forced to pull out due to devastating back pain.

While his national team will surely be weakened by his absence, Sweden's shot at a gold medal is still on the cusp of being realistic, what with goalie Henrik Lundqvist in net and offensive threats like Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Backstrom and Erik Karlsson in the mix.

But what about Zetterberg’s NHL team? How bright will the Detroit Red Wings’ future be if they too have to sustain the loss of their captain long term?

While Zetterberg and the Red Wings have yet to understand the extent of his injury, what they know now is enough to start looking forward to life without No. 40 in red.

A herniated disc isn’t something any player can easily spring back from, and should surgery or extensive rehab be part of the plan for recovery, a timeline for the player’s return is often given the dreaded "indefinite" status.

Speaking to the Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland painted a bleak picture of Zetterberg’s status:

"I don't know if he will need surgery. He needs to see a doctor. He is going to wait until he feels better, then fly home early next week. It is, obviously, a huge disappointment for him."

With Zetterberg conceivably out for the remaining 37 games in the NHL regular season, the Detroit Red Wings will be forced to battle for a playoff spot without their captain and leading scorer—the possibility alone is enough to make even the most optimistic Red Wings fan feel crestfallen.

However, should Pavel Datsyuk be able to return to Detroit in playing shape along with fellow forwards Johan Franzen (concussion) and Stephen Weiss (sports hernia), the Red Wings just might have enough talent and grit in the lineup to push on for a 23rd straight playoff finish.

Do you buy that?

Yeah, me neither.

Though Datsyuk has looked something like his regular brilliant self in Sochi, he’s still far from top form. Franzen was one of Detroit’s hottest players before being sidelined with a concussion in mid-December, so his ability to come back in late February and immediately contribute should not be counted on.

And that leaves Weiss, whose deplorable season to date was mercifully put into a coma by virtue of a sports hernia and subsequent surgery. Weiss’ return will not yield anything more to Detroit than another warm body in the dressing room.

Sure, one could point to salvation beyond these banged-up veterans to younger players like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco, all players who have stepped up admirably throughout this season.

However, their backs are still too young and inexperienced to carry the load of 22 years of expectations and a legacy on which to extend.

No, the back the Detroit Red Wings need to succeed for the rest of the 2013-14 season is currently disabled and broken, delivering nothing but unimaginable pain to its owner.

That pain may soon spread to all who cheer for Detroit’s hockey team, as the club's hopes for a playoff finish to the 2013-14 season currently lie broken in Sochi.