You don't need stats to see it. All you need is two capable eyes, and a general understanding of how hockey works. Henrik Zetterberg is on the wrong side of his 30's, and the decline is real. The problem isn't that he's declining. No, that happens to any player who's sustained injuries like he has. The problem is that he's still being treated as if he is a rock that the team can lean on in big situations. Once upon a time, even in recent years, this was fine. Now it's not. I love Henrik Zetterberg, but I can't help to cringe when I see him skating through the neutral zone at what appears to be a snail's pace. The smart, crafty veteran plays are still there, but the legs aren't and yet he is logging BIG minutes for this evolving core of forwards.
Over-usage for the over-aged
If you look at all situations, Zetterberg logged the second-most minutes on the team (1588.85) through 82 games out of all players. The next closest was Justin Abdelkader (1505.07), while Danny DeKeyser led the pack (1697.7).
Why are we leaning on this player so much? The underlying numbers tell us that he's doing well in terms of puck possession for his usage and age (51.17% 5v5, score adjusted). The issue is the scoring isn't there. In his last 20 games, the Red Wings captain has amassed only five (5) 5v5 points, despite boasting a 52.2 CF%. The issue isn't puck possession, it's as simple as boiling it down to the overall regression of his abilities to make effective plays against top competition:
Chart and data from corsica.hockey
Pretty scary thing to look at, isn't it? Simply put, Hank's offense is bottoming out. It's gotten to the point that you don't even need numbers to see that he's performing at the rate of a 3rd line center right now. So why do the Red Wings continue to use him as their rock to lean on?
When you look at high-danger scoring chances, Zetterberg is being out-played. In the final 20-game stretch, Hank's high-danger scoring chance differential -17. This is a pretty alarming indicator that he's unable to prevent his competition from creating big chances. Performances like this from your number one center are detrimental to your team's performance, and we've certainly seen it over the last stretch of games. The usage is ass-backwards, and it continues be problematic for the Red Wings.
So what gives? Well, the quick answer is that the Red Wings don't have a trust-worthy bonafide first line center. You could argue that Dylan Larkin should be transitioning into this role, but not now. Not in the playoffs. Could Pavel Datsyuk do it? Sure, but it would be the same issue in terms of physical abilities. A center needs to be quick, agile, strong on the puck, and able to carry the line. Those are things that Zetterberg simply cannot do like he used to. All I can say is that the Wings would be wise to adjust their usage of him before they shoot themselves in the foot. Again.