The Annual Datsyuk Dilemma

Every year there are three things you can count on as a Detroit Red Wings fan in the summer; The Fedorov jersey retirement debate, an exuberance of optimism because of a few pre-season wins, and, of course, the rumored return of Pavel Datsyuk.

Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images NA

The Magic Man was quite the prolific Red Wing, registering 918 points in 953 games. Datsyuk was part of two of Detroit’s Stanley Cup winning teams in 2002 and 2008. He won a variety of awards, including four consecutive Lady Byng titles. So it’s really no surprise that his departure broke a lot of hearts in Motown. Once a year during summer, without fail, Datsyuk’s return to Detroit becomes heavily rumored and dreamed about. To some, those dreams are a nightmare.

This year seems a little bit different. After trading Pavel Datsyuk’s NHL rights to the Arizona Coyotes in 2016, Datsyuk’s rights in Arizona will finally expire on July 1st, 2019. Datsyuk could actually return to Detroit for the first time since he voluntarily retired from the NHL. This realization, coming on the heels of Datsyuk officially leaving the KHL’s St. Petersberg and a planned trip to Detroit during the summer, made for a lot more intensity in this year’s annual debate.

So let’s assume The Magic Man wants to come back to Detroit for one last hoorah around the NHL. Is this a good move for Detroit? Most say “no”, taking a quick glance at the roster and the intent to inject youth into the lineup to keep this rebuild trucking along.

I say: “Yes.”

What more than a few don’t really understand is that The Magic Man wouldn’t truly take a roster spot from a deserving prospect. Given Datsyuk’s age and health (he hasn’t played a full season in a decade), it’s hard to say he would even have a truly “full time” roster spot.

Datsyuk would bring scoring, and with scoring, confidence. Not only would the Wings likely score more, he could be feeding Detroit’s future points and the confidence those prospects need to score on their own. Confidence is an extremely undervalued part of a prospect’s development.

Photo Credit: Alexy Chernyadyev

That’s even without the best part: Datsyuk’s return would likely accelerate the removal of another, less skilled, veteran. If Datsyuk signs and the intent is to put him at 3C, Nielsen is no longer needed. Whether he is sent through waivers or traded, Nielsen’s $5.25M contract is gone. I highly doubt Datsyuk signs for that much. Nielsen’s remaining 3 years would also be gone, while Datsyuk would likely only sign for one year, two at most.

The misconception of Datsyuk’s return being a poor decision is usually on the heels of looking only at adding another veteran. Not at the possibility of subtraction by addition. If Datsyuk’s return for, say, $4M for 1 year would mean getting rid of Nielsen’s $5.25M for 3 years? I’m all for it. Without Datsyuk’s return, there isn’t a better option for the third line center position (yet), and Detroit is notoriously reluctant to place any prospect at center position anyway. Nothing could be official until July 1st (or until Datsyuk signs a KHL contract). Only time will tell.


– Jesse L


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