Krupa: Datsyuk likely to leave Wings in a bind

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

A few days after the Tampa Bay Lightning ousted the Red Wings from the playoffs in five games, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said he pretty much knew it was Pavel Datsyuk’s last as a member of the team.

Datsyuk is likely to make that official Saturday in a news conference not at Joe Louis Arena and not called by the Red Wings.

The event was announced by his agent, Dan Milstein, and is set for noon at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, where the 37-year-old Wings star — 38 on July 20 — is hosting a hockey camp.

Privately, the Red Wings have been unhappy with the situation for a while, especially when news of it broke at the head of a difficult stretch drive to the playoffs last season, and when Datsyuk confirmed it publicly the Sunday before the start of the playoffs.

Awkward? To say the least!

The Wings, in fact, have long had indications of what is coming.

But advance notice did not make what is already a harshly difficult near-term future for the franchise any easier.

“Given my past conversations with Pav and Dan Milstein over the past year,” Holland said April 25, “given the article that came out on the Sunday just before the playoffs started, given what’s going on back there (in the dressing room) with his teammates, taking pictures and doing things with him, I guess I would probably expect news that he’s not coming back.”

Holland said the Wings were intent on giving their wayward star “all the time he needs.”

They have done that, and more.

They knew throughout much of the season, if not longer. They gave Datsyuk time, hoping he would change his mind.

Now, it looks like he is holding his own media huddle, at his own event and away from the team, to tell us all what we already know.

The next step

So, having been put in this position, what do the Red Wings do?

It is possible a major deal is in the works, and Wings fans certainly hope so.

Unfortunately for the Wings, it is unlikely.

Datysuk’s contract still could go to the Coyotes, perhaps the Hurricanes, or maybe another low-revenue team, which would use it to help achieve the mandatory salary floor in the NHL.

The Wings, however, likely would have to send a regular player, a high prospect, draft choices or something significant to reward a club for essentially doing them a favor.

The Coyotes obtained from the Stars this week the rights to negotiate with defenseman Alex Goligoski, and they already have three free-agent defensemen on their roster. Moving Datsyuk’s contract there along with the necessary additional player or two might be attractive, if the Wings get something more than just cap space in return.

That move would make even more sense if the Red Wings were assured they could use the cap space freed up by ridding themselves of Datsyuk to sign Steven Stamkos, a free agent with the Lightning and one of the best goal scorers in the league.

But the odds are long against it. Blockbuster moves in the NHL are increasingly rare, and having a salary-cap dump as part of one has yet to occur.

Meanwhile, something far simpler — moving Datsyuk for cap space to a team needing a cap hit and getting nothing in return — is fraught with peril.

It was clear as Holland spoke two months ago that the price tag on such deals had escalated from previous seasons, when low-revenue clubs were content simply to accept the cap hit as a means of reaching the floor without having to pay the salary for a retired player, or one too injured to be active.

Now, those revenue-challenged teams have learned they can get something of value in personnel in return, in addition to help reaching the floor.

That was true even before the Hurricanes were able to finagle the talent-proven Teuvo Teravainen from the Blackhawks in return for also taking Bryan Bickell and his ridiculously inflated $4 million salary cap hit off Chicago’s ledgers.

Any team approached about receiving Datsyuk’s cap hit in a trade now knows to demand considerable talent in return.

Eating the contract

Unfortunately, the third alternative amid the difficulties Datsyuk has provoked may be the most likely, in addition to being the least attractive.

The Wings may simply have to take Datsyuk’s hit and compete next season with $7.5 million less under the salary cap.

Holland anticipated he might have to swallow it to avoid losing prized young talent, which is at a premium for the club’s rebuild on the fly.

“If you don’t have Pav, what do you do about the cap space?” Holland said in April. “That certainly is a problem or a concern.

“My take would be, if he’s not here, certainly you’d like to move the cap space. But if the price is going to be lots of futures, it doesn’t make any sense.

“It doesn’t make any sense if Pav has one year to go on his contract to give prime prospects or prime draft picks to free up one year of cap space given where this franchise is — because of 25 years of being in the playoffs and not having prime draft picks.”

Grim, eh?

Not exactly the state of affairs anticipated four years into the “rebuild on the fly,” which began after Nicklas Lidstrom retired and Detroit failed to sign free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who went with their Minnesotan families to Minnesota.

But there you have it.

Of course, all of that is out the window if Datsyuk shocks the world this afternoon and announces he will play one more season.

But, if anything is less likely than a blockbuster sequence of roster move or merely moving Datsyuk’s cap hit, it is No. 13 playing his final season in the NHL in the final season at Joe Louis Arena.