For 14 seasons, Pavel Datsyuk wowed NHL fans with his elite stickhandling, skating, and passing. Defensively gifted as well, Datsyuk won the Selke trophy three consecutive seasons from 2008-2010. He was a member of two Stanley Cup-winning teams, and an almost certain Hall of Famer. After the 2015-16 season, Datsyuk returned home to Russia to be closer to his young children, and joined KHL team SKA St. Petersburg.
With his KHL contract expired, Datsyuk flew to Detroit recently and met with new Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman. Datsyuk has stated that he is not ready to retire, and made it clear that he will only play for the Red Wings should he return to the NHL. A decision on whether to return to Russia or Detroit appears imminent for Datsyuk, and is eagerly anticipated by Red Wings fans. Here is why the Red Wings should sign Datsyuk — and why they shouldn’t.
How Datsyuk Would Help Detroit
Datsyuk’s return would provide valuable veteran leadership for the Wings, considering Henrik Zetterberg has retired, Niklas Kronwall’s future is uncertain, and Mike Green is sidelined with a very serious viral infection. Although Datsyuk turns 41 in July, several elite players — Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne, and ironman Chris Chelios, to name a few — were still effective in their 40s. Datsyuk has continued to produce in the very competitive KHL, scoring 42 points in 54 games last season.
While he would likely take a backseat to young stars like Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, Datsyuk would be valuable on the third and potentially second lines. Detroit has impressive prospects on the cusp of making the team, who could thrive under the tutelage of such a gifted player.
Drawbacks to Datsyuk’s Return
In addition to his age, the biggest objection to Datsyuk rejoining the Red Wings is that he would be taking up cap space needed to sign a deserving prospect. Although this argument has merit, seeing that Taro Hirose and Filip Zadina looked impressive in their Red Wings debuts, Detroit has some cap space to work with. According to CapFriendly, the Wings’ estimated cap space for 2019-20 is around $8.3 million.
The most Datsyuk can realistically expect to earn is somewhere in the $3-4 million range, for at most two seasons. Most of Detroit’s AHL prospects are already signed to entry-level contracts, which are typically no more than $1 million annually. Adding a contract of Datsyuk’s value would make it difficult for Detroit to sign a high-caliber free agent in the offseason, but judging by recent history of the Wings’ rebuild, that option seems unlikely.
Pavel Datsyuk is a Red Wings legend. His number 13 will certainly hang from the rafters at Little Caesar’s Arena one day, and his phenomenal two-way play powered Detroit to two Stanley Cups. The timing of his return seems perfect. His former teammate Steve Yzerman has taken the reigns of the franchise, with hopes of eventually returning to the glory days of Hockeytown. Datsyuk’s return would excite fans, provide veteran leadership for young players, and give the Wings an immediate boost, because even at 41, Pavel Datsyuk can still be an excellent player in the NHL. While he may decide to continue playing in Russia, the Red Wings would be wise to offer Datsyuk at least one more year if he wants it. ■
Joe Banish is a die-hard Red Wings fan who lives in the pro hockey vacuum of the Pacific Northwest. He also likes beating goalies high glove side, playing basketball, and cheering on his alma mater, Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @BanishJoe.