DETROIT -- Henrik Zetterberg knew something wasn't right with his back last January when he stopped practicing. Despite the aches and pains, he did not miss a game all season for the Detroit Red Wings.
When Zetterberg laced up his skates for the final game of the regular season, he thought that might be the finale of his career. He held out hope over the summer that his career could resume and was still clinging to that when he met with a doctor last week.
"Got the final result and nothing really had changed," Zetterberg told reporters Friday in Traverse City, Michigan. "So, that's kind of when it kicked in."
The 37-year-old Zetterberg, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the top player in the postseason when the Red Wings hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2008, is calling it a career. The skillful, smooth-skating Swede is a member of a select group of players who have won a Stanley Cup, world championship and Olympic gold.
His departure is another blow for a proud franchise that has struggled in recent years.
"Obviously, it is emotional," Zetterberg said. "It's been 15 years here. Even though I knew I was on my last couple years, I wish that I could have played a little bit longer."
Zetterberg will go on long-term injured reserve with three years left on his 12-year, $73 million contract. He will continue to be paid and the team will get some $6 million in salary-cap relief.
"He's got a degenerative condition in his back," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "Part of the degenerative condition is significant arthritis. Nothing can be done. No back surgery. No rehab. No more time off is going to have any positive impact.
"Obviously if he plays professional hockey, it's going to accelerate the degeneration, and if he does get a bad hit or something, then he's risking a significant back surgery. Henrik has decided that his quality of life is more important than taking the risk of back surgery."
Holland called Zetterberg one of the best players in the long history of the Red Wings and it's hard to argue with that. Zetterberg had 337 goals and 960 career points and regularly was a candidate for the Selke Trophy honoring the NHL's best defensive forward.
He was also a steal: Detroit selected Zetterberg with the No. 210 pick overall nearly two decades ago.
"I didn't see myself lasting this long probably, when I got drafted back in '99 as a seventh-round pick," Zetterberg said. "Been through all the good things and some low things during my career but being in one organization for the whole time, being named the captain of this organization, that's something special."