Commentary

Zetterberg latest to take hometown cut

Updated: January 29, 2009, 10:54 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Whatever you want to call it -- the hometown haircut, the hometown discount -- a lot of money gets left on GM Ken Holland's table in Detroit.

Henrik Zetterberg left some Wednesday when the gifted forward announced he had signed the biggest contract in Red Wings history, a 12-year deal worth $73 million.

[+] EnlargeHenrik Zetterberg
AP Photo/Paul SancyaHenrik Zetterberg signed a 12-year, $73 million deal with the Red Wings on Wednesday.

The deal might not sound like small potatoes, and it's not. The Red Wings gambled that Zetterberg's niggling back problems won't become more serious as he grows older and that, like Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios, his age won't diminish his effectiveness even as he pushes the upper age limits in the league.

But Zetterberg, following in the tradition of some of the biggest names in franchise history, also shared the risk, knowing he almost certainly could have become a free agent in July and earned in excess of $8 million a year for, what, six, seven, eight years.

Instead, he chose to sign a deal that will, in essence, make him a Red Wing for life, like former captain Yzerman, who was drafted a Red Wing, won three Stanley Cups as a Red Wing and retired a Red Wing to join their front office.

Yzerman's career arc appealed to Zetterberg, Holland told ESPN.com late Wednesday afternoon.

"He loves hockey. He's got great passion," Holland said of Zetterberg. "He's got a lot of the attributes that Steve Yzerman had. We think we've got a special human being."

Zetterberg, 28, might not end up playing the last three years of his deal, but those years are crucial for making the deal make sense for the Red Wings as they will pay Zetterberg just $3.35 million, $1 million and $1 million, respectively. Those three years mean Zetterberg's cap hit is a very reasonable $6.08 million and won't hamstring Holland when it comes to keeping his team moving forward. That cap number suggests Holland now will be able to turn his attentions to Marian Hossa and Johan Franzen.

"Great signing," national NHL analyst and former NHL coach Pierre McGuire told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "This also helps the Wings keep their high-priced talent core together as well as bring their young players along slowly. The Wings just always seem to get it right."

"When players can't be traded [because of their contracts] or you're stuck with them, that's when it becomes a real albatross," Craig Button, a former NHL GM and now national analyst, said Wednesday. "I don't see that with the Red Wings."

They don't need to worry about finding players who will complement Zetterberg.

"Zetterberg will make others around him better," Button said.

Button also marveled at the Red Wings' unwavering belief in what they are doing in terms of team building. "They're just a real shining example of efficiency and of excellence," Button said.

Hossa and Franzen will become unrestricted free agents in July, and both will be hot commodities if they ever reach the open market. Hossa is an excellent two-way player with enormous skills. Franzen is the late-blooming goal machine who has scored 48 since the start of last season. He also has recorded a phenomenal 14 game winners over that period.

It's no surprise the first of the three Red Wings' potential free-agent dominoes to fall was Zetterberg. He was drafted by Detroit -- with the 210th pick in 1999 if you can get your head around that -- and has evolved into a premier two-way player with MVP qualities. But the assumption was that once he was locked up, it would pretty much preclude the Wings from trying to re-sign Hossa. Not so, Holland said.

He figures the team has enough room to sign Franzen or Hossa before the end of the season, but not both because the Wings already have committed so much money toward next season's cap.

Detroit could sign either Franzen or Hossa, then make a push to sign the third when July 1 gets closer and next year's cap has been established, Holland suggested. That presumes, of course, that either Franzen or Hossa is willing to follow the long-established Red Wings trend of taking less money to stay with an organization that has won four Stanley Cups since 1997 and is considered a strong contender to repeat as Cup champions this spring.

Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Chelios, Dominik Hasek, even role players such as Dan Cleary, could have made more money elsewhere but believed the financial sacrifice was worth staying with a franchise that has become the envy of every other NHL team in terms of its ability to avoid the dreaded rebuild.

When Hossa shocked the hockey world by signing a one-year deal with Detroit this past summer, Holland discussed the sacrifice that was part of the Red Wings organization. Players were constantly being asked to sacrifice for the greater good, whether that was in terms of role or ice time or, in the case of a player such as Hossa, money.

That notion of financial sacrifice, which might seem strangely socialistic for a pro sports entity, has become part of the fabric of this Red Wings team.

Yes, the Wings draft and develop players like no one else in the business, but they also have achieved the difficult task of being able to attract and keep top players without seeing their internal salary structure thrown out of whack. "It's who we are," Holland said.

The current economic situation means there will be uncertainty about where the NHL's salary cap might go. That will make Holland's path uncertain, just as it will be for every other GM in the league.

"I don't want to wake up with six guys with 10-year contracts," Holland said.

But by getting Zetterberg to sign on for the long haul without breaking the bank, Holland has once again positioned himself to keep the Red Wings in the hunt -- today, tomorrow and beyond.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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