If you look at Datsyuk's body of work, he's almost a sure-fire Hall of Fame candidate. He's played at an exceptional level for his entire career on a number of stages that include the Russian SuperLeague and the KHL, and he's always managed to put up points. As he's matured, his scoring has become more regular to the point where he's almost a point-per-game player in the NHL. He has a pair of Stanley Cups on his resumé, three Selke Trophies, and four Lady Byng Trophies. When it comes to responsible, two-way hockey, Pavel Datsyuk is still one of the best in today's game.
What makes this hard for the Red Wings, however, is that Datsyuk signed his last contract as a member of the over-35 club meaning that the Red Wings would be responsible for his entire salary regardless of whether he suits up in the NHL next season or not. That's a big chunk of money - $7.5 million - that could be used to replace Datsyuk from which the Red Wings will get no relief if Datsyuk follows his heart and returns home to Russia. When 10% of the entire salary cap is devoted to an empty locker, that's a tough pill to swallow for owners and GMs.
I'm guessing there will be some push from the Ilitches and GM Ken Holland to have Datsyuk play out the final year of his contract. He's still an effective scorer with 49 points in 66 games, and his defensive awareness is still among the best in the game. Maybe the Red Wings cater to him during that required five-day break all players will receive next season and fly him home for that week to spend with his daughter. It would be a grand gesture from the Red Wings to help Datsyuk's final year in the NHL go much smoother if they could help him be home in Russia as often as possible instead of going to events such as the NHL All-Star Game or the World Cup of Hockey.
Perhaps what I'll miss the most if Datsyuk does leave North America is watching his stickhandling and hands. The man was a surgeon on the ice when it came to precision with the puck, and I wish I had even a miniscule fraction of his ability. For example, there's always this classic Datsyuk-ian goal from 2003 on Marty Turco.
That's outstanding! Of course, he's done things more recently that are incredible as well. Check out this effort against the Nashville Predators in 2013 where he skates into five yellow jerseys and comes away with the tying goal!
The man is a wizard on the ice. While his skating has slowed ever so slightly, his vision and hands still make most players envious. I completely respect and understand his desire to be closer to his teenage daughter from his first marriage as she moves into the years that will ultimately determine who she is as a woman, but it's hard to say goodbye to a talent as exceptional as Pavel Datsyuk.
If there is one way to make this easier on all of us as fans, it's that he's leaving on his own terms. And that's how all the greatest players should leave the game.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!