DETROIT – Steve Yzerman will meet this week with Detroit general manager Ken Holland to discuss whether the 40-year-old center will play a 22nd season for the Red Wings.

“I want Steve to play this year,” Holland said during Tuesday news conference. “With the new coaching staff, I think he will be a tremendous asset to the coaches with his leadership in the locker room and as an incredibly determined athlete.”

The Red Wings hired Mike Babcock to coach the team earlier this month.

Yzerman’s future has been in doubt since he underwent surgery for a scratched cornea and multiple fractures below his left eye following a 2004 playoff game and after last season was lost because of the lockout. He is an unrestricted free agent.

Yzerman, the longest-serving team captain in NHL history, is sixth on the NHL’s career scoring list with 1,721 points. He trails only Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Gordie Howe, Ron Francis and Marcel Dionne.

“I know what Steve has done for this organization from the day he showed in training camp,” Holland said.

With Yzerman, the Red Wings have won three Stanley Cups and made 14 straight playoff appearances.

Holland’s comments came the same day the team bought out the contracts of three other veteran players to make room under the $39 million salary cap imposed with the NHL’s new collective bargaining agreement.

Detroit placed defenseman Derian Hatcher and forwards Ray Whitney and Darren McCarty on waivers Monday, and when they cleared Tuesday, the Wings bought them out.

“It was a difficult decision, especially in Darren’s situation,” Holland said of the 11-year veteran.

The Red Wings have committed about $22 million to nine players’ salaries so far. The team is looking to add about another dozen players.

Holland said he is considering keeping free agents Mathieu Schneider, a defenseman, and Pavel Datsyuk, a center who Holland said has received an offer from a Russian team.

AP-ES-07-26-05 1909EDT

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