My pick for Red Wings Round 3 Most Valuable Player Who Doesn't Wear Number 5:
(Photo: David Guralnick, The Detroit News)
Round 3 was for Hank the culmination of a season in which he and Pavel Datsyuk stepped up and unqualifiedly became the Wings' best (human) players and absolute leaders. We lost, but as I've said before, I think the loss cemented this as their team and the next Wings' cup as their job.
Zetterberg got better every round, slowly regaining form from a nasty back injury that took longer to recover than initially projected. By Round 3 he was flying and looked at times dominant. Of course he wasn't dominant nearly enough, and as has been widely reported, failed to do damage in away from home. But every Wings' player had faults and problems in Round 3 (it's sort of why we lost). I basically am selecting Zetterberg (and Datsyuk would be just as reasonable a choice for the same reason) because of his peformance in the third period of Game 6.
Just to cement how insane this guy's performance was, let me throw a stat at you, the top 4 TOI from Game 6:
S. Niedermayer: 32:10
F. Beauchemin: 31:13
N. Lidstrom: 30:13
C. Pronger: 29:17
Not really surprising at all. D-Men average is 20 mins, whereas forwards average 15. And the Wings had a deeper D rotation, whereas Anaheim depended on a Big 3. But who where the next two, you ask? They're weren't defensemen.
H. Zetterberg: 26:12
P. Datsyuk: 24:05
Those are ridiculous numbers for forwards, especially forwards who skate as much as Datsyuk and Zetterberg, around 175% of average (30 mins is 150% of average for a D-Man). I commented during the third period that it seemed like they were on the ice for 75% of the time. Apparently it was true. These two stepped up, played like machines in the third, and showed little sign of fatigue. Zatta played as much as Draper and Filppula put together. Those two aren't chopped liver! (Here's an interesting side note: Maltby played just ~3 mins in G6. What's up with that?)
Zetterberg has two years left until UFA, with a cap hit of 2.65M (RWC, HA) which is by far the best bargain in the NHL, unless Hasek returns on a similar contract to this past year's (and even that would make some sense given the risk of injury and Hasek's well documented batshit insanity). The Wings would be crazy not to make Z's extension their first priority next offseason. Lidas will also be an FA, and the Wings can point to Z's extension when trying to get a hometown discount out of the captain. Kris Draper is also an FA that offseason and undoubtedly will re-sign with the Wings for significantly less than the 2.138M (RWC, HA: 2.128M) he is currently making. Add in presumed cap increases and Summer 2008 seems like the best time to give Z his mondo deal. I expect 7 years, maybe 7.15M (a 4.5M raise, and the same ballpark as Dats).
Another less likely possibility is that the Wings swing it this year. They'd likely save a little money (Z's value can only rise as time goes on the cap gets bigger) and Hank could stop worrying about being paid so much less than his pal Pasha (I doubt he actually is worrying about it, but who knows). There is only one way that the Wings could fit a payraise in, and that's if:
1. They either bring back Hasek or bring up Howard (i.e., a cheap goalie)
2. The elect for youth up front (Huds, Kopecky, Grigorenko) and in the back (Quincey, Meech, Kindl?)
The Wings shouldn't shed salary just to give Z a raise, but if they happen to do so anyway, why not give Z what he deserves now? Like I said, unlikely, but it would be a pretty classy move to give a guy his due two years ahead of time.