Sweden, viewed as Canada’s biggest threat at the World Cup of Hockey, lost another player to injury just days before training camps are to open. Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg, who was expected to serve as captain of the team, has been forced to drop out of the tournament due to injury. He will be replaced by Mikael Backlund of the Calgary Flames.
According to Team Sweden’s press release (via Risto Pakarinen), Zetterberg is taking himself out because he didn’t feel that he would be at 100 percent heading into the tournament.
Sweden has now lost both Zetterberg and veteran forward Alexander Steen, each of whom would have been key players for them in this tournament. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall also dropped out of the tournament. That’s a lot of experience on the sidelines now.
This is a tough blow to Sweden’s roster, but to Zetterberg as well, as he was forced out of the 2014 Olympics after only one game with a back injury. It cost him a chance to help Sweden on their run to the gold-medal game, where they ultimately fell to Canada. He also remained out for the remainder of the regular season before managing return for two playoff games.
The veteran center had been dogged by injuries in recent years, but managed to play in all 82 games in 2015-16 for Detroit.
The Swedes still have tremendous depth up front, with a versatile group of forwards led by Nicklas Backstrom, Filip Forsberg and the Sedin twins. They also have the best defense corps in the tournament and if Henrik Lundqvist is on his game, they still have an honest shot to make some noise in this tournament.
At this point in Zetterberg’s career, Backlund isn’t even all that much of a downgrade. He finshed with 47 points last season, which is only three fewer points than Zetterberg in as many games. He also brings a strong two-way element just as Zetterberg would have in this tournament. They’d surely rather have Zetterberg in there, but as the tournament approaches, this is a good enough alternative for them.
Losing the captain days before training camp is still a tough pull to swallow for Sweden. It also puts a bit of a damper on what looked to be the last hurrah for the Swedes that were part of the 2006 Olympic gold medal team. Zetterberg and Kronwall were both part of that squad. Henrik Lundqvist, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are all that remain from that club on the World Cup roster.
Sweden should still remain a title threat with the roster they have, but they’re going to have to hope everyone stays healthy heading into and during the tournament.