Justin Abdelkader still wants to play, signs tryout with Detroit Red Wings' AHL team
The former longtime Wings forward has signed a professional tryout contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Abdelkader, who turns 35 next month, played last season in Switzerland, where he won the 2021 NHL title with EV Zug. He played for the Wings from 2007-08 to 2019-20, rising to become an alternate captain.
"I’m very excited," Abdelkader said. "It's good to be back here where it all kind of started, back in 2008. I've been in touch with some of the Detroit staff about the possibility of getting in some games here and getting back up to game speed. Really excited to get back, had a great year last year over in Switzerland. Had a good World Championships until I got hurt. Still love the game, still want to play and am thankful for the opportunity here in Grand Rapids."
Abdelkader's contract is with the Griffins, not the Wings. General manager Steve Yzerman cut ties with Abdelkader in 2020, opting to buy out the remaining three years on his contract. It put the Wings on the hook to play Abdelkader $2,305,556 this season and next season, and then $1,055,556 in 2023-24, 2024-25 and 2025-26, but Abdelkader no longer fit into the Wings' plans.
"It was definitely disappointing, but you have to move on and open new doors," Abdelkader said. "I still wanted to play and still felt like I could play at a high level. I think I went out and showed that.
"I still have the drive and the passion to play and love the game. I’m going to do it as long as I am capable."
Abdelkader was drafted by the Wings at No. 42 in 2005. He joined them after three seasons at Michigan State, steadily working his way up from a grinder role to the top line. At his best, he played on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, where Abdelkader's role was to retrieve the puck and go to the net.
"Justin worked extremely hard, was a great pro, so certainly if he gets the opportunity, I certainly wish him luck," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said.
Abdelkader, from Muskegon, played 739 games, recording 252 points and 608 penalty minutes. The left winger wore the “A” on his Red Wings jersey from 2016-20 while also captaining Team USA at two World Championships (2014, 2021). Abdelkader spent his entire North American career in the Red Wings organization and appeared in eight Stanley Cup playoff runs.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Justin Abdelkader still wants to play, signs tryout with Detroit Red Wings' AHL team