Wednesday, 1 May 2019

He's Taking His Talents To...

It was a bit of a shock that Pavel Datsyuk returned to Russia following the 2015-16 NHL season, but it was fairly obvious that Detroit was going to have to retool if they hoped to return to the top of the NHL mountain and an aging Pavel Datsyuk simply didn't fit very well into those plans. To clear space within the salary cap, the Red Wings dealt Datsyuk's remaining contract to the Arizona Coyotes and began the process of finding the next Datsyuk to replace their former Russian star. Datsyuk returned to Russia, signed with SKA St. Petersburg where he helped SKA win the Gagarin Cup in 2016-17.

Fast forward to today where Datsyuk has informed SKA St. Petersburg that he will not be returning to the club, and has his eye on a possible return to the NHL after three seasons in the KHL. Reports have him flying into Detroit where the 40 year-old will meet with his agent, Dan Milstein, on a possible return to the NHL with other KHL cities being second choices. There was reportedly a discussion between Ken Holland and Datsyuk's camp prior to Holland relinquishing his general manager duties to Steve Yzerman, so nothing is set in stone in the Motor City just yet. It seems, however, that Datsyuk's first choice for an NHL return would be the only team for whom he's worn a jersey.

Personally, I can't see Detroit adding Datsyuk under Yzerman. While Yzerman added veteran players in Tampa Bay while he was there, no Tampa Bay player was 40 years-old and I doubt he'll be looking to tie up money in Datsyuk unless it was a minuscule contract that doesn't disrupt the rebuild in Detroit. So are there any NHL teams that can add a 40 year-old centerman whose best days are behind him but still has enough talent to warrant a bottom-six look?

According to Dan Milstein today, you can forget those ideas.
"The only team he'd play for in the National Hockey League would be the Detroit Red Wings. With that said, if he was to entertain returning to the NHL, I would be speaking to John Chayka (Arizona Coyotes general manager, since the Coyotes own Datsyuk's rights) before I would approach anybody else.

"(But) if Pavel decides to continue to explore the possibility of playing in the National Hockey League, I can tell you the only club he would play for would be the Detroit Red Wings.

"He would not consider any other options."
If it's Red Wings or bust, Datsyuk is really putting himself in a bad situation regarding his NHL return. However, if he doesn't find a way to get back with the Red Wings, there are reportedly other KHL options. One such place he could land is in his home town of Yekaterinburg and suit up with Avtomobilist.

"At this point he’s going to have to decide where he wants to play," Milstein told The Detroit News. "How much does he want to play, another year, or two years? If it's only one year, the decision would probably be returning home (to Russia), right?

"If it's one and one, he could play one year here and one year there, right?

"He has to decide what he wants to do."

And that's where Pavel Datsyuk's future lies: he needs to decide what his next steps are. Personally, I can see a return to Yekaterinburg as the most likely option after they finished as top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference this year on the strength of a 39-14-8-1 record. He'll go into a food situation where he doesn't have to be the biggest or brightest star, but can still contribute. There are some talented guys on the Avtomobilist roster that would allow Datsyuk to continue to be a play-maker, and he'd be close to home in the city in which he grew up. To me, that sounds like the most likely option for the superstar Russian, but his future will only be decided by him and his desires.

If there is a cautionary tale to be told, it's that of the Los Angeles Kings and Ilya Kovalchuk. The Russian sniper was a bust with the Kings this year as he moved up and down the lineup before occasionally finding himself in the press box as a scratch, and that's something of which the Red Wings, if they do take a chance with Datsyuk, need to wary. Just because these Russian players were superstars in the NHL in years past doesn't mean they return from the KHL with the same skills and abilities. Most often, we see diminished skills and reduced speed as shown by Kovalchuk, and the older Datsyuk may be even more of a reason to avoid committing term and/or money to the once-great NHL player.

It should be an interesting summer for Pavel Datsyuk. My guess is he's going home to retire in the next few years.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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