Datsyuk’s exit would cripple Wings’ offense, salary cap

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Toronto — Pavel Datsyuk has thought about it before, the possibility of leaving the NHL and returning to Russia.

He thought about it during the NHL lockout in 2012-13, while playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, before ultimately returning and eventally re-signing with the Red Wings to a three-year extension.

But Datsyuk didn’t hide behind the fact he would like to conclude his playing career in his native Russia.

Maybe Datsyuk, who’ll be 38 in July, figures the time is right.

Despite having one more season left on a contract that carries with it a $7.5 million salary cap hit, Datsyuk is reportedly again thinking about returning to Russia.

Elliotte Friedman, a “Hockey Night in Canada” analyst, reported Saturday night Datsyuk is considering going back to Russia after this season.

Report: Datsyuk might leave Wings at season’s end

Friedman, citing unnamed sources, said “family reasons” are the major reason Datsyuk — a three-time Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) and four-time Lady Byng (gentlemanly play) winner — would go to Russia and play in the KHL.

Datsyuk did not speak with the media after Saturday’s 3-2 victory in Toronto. Red Wings media relations said Datsyuk would likely talk with the media after Monday’s practice (the team didn’t practice Sunday).

If Datsyuk were to exit the NHL, it would leave the Red Wings with a gaping hole in their offense — as well as hamstring their salary cap situation next season.

Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, teams cannot escape the salary cap obligations to a player who signs a multi-year contract after the age of 35, which Datsyuk did.

Having $7.5 million of useless money under an approximately $72 million salary cap would be a crippling hit to the Red Wings.

Still, there is one way — albeit a long shot — the Red Wings could come out of the situation in positive fashion, but without Datsyuk.

If the Red Wings were to trade Datsyuk’s contract to a team simply attempting to reach the salary cap minimum next season, it would free the Red Wings of the contract and they would suddenly have $7.5 million more to spend in free agency — and maybe get heavily involved in the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes.

General manager Ken Holland watched Friedman’s report, but said the story was mainly “rumors.”

“I haven’t talked to Pavel, he has a year to go (on his contract),” Holland said. “Are the rumors news to me? I hear a lot of rumors. There were rumors last summer. There were rumors the summer before. There will be rumors next summer.

“There were rumors on Nicklas Lidstrom (returning to Sweden) for about three years.

“It’s all rumors.”

And with the Red Wings embarking on the final week of the regular season, including a back-to-back against Philadelphia on Wednesday and at Boston on Thursday — the two teams battling with the Red Wings for playoff positions — Holland will not speak with Datsyuk regarding the speculation.

“We have a game against Philadelphia, the biggest game of the year. For me to go and meet players about next year…it’s about this year,” Holland said. “He has a year to go on his contract. I’ll sit down with all of our players at the end of the year, one by one, and talk to them all. We’ll worry about next year when our season is over.

“Obviously, I’ll sit down with Pavel.”

After a slow start coming off ankle surgery last summer, Datsyuk has playing some of his best hockey of late.

Datsyuk is tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the team lead with 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) in 63 games, and has a plus-7 rating.

Dan Milstein, Datsyuk’s agent, said Datsyuk is concentrating on this season and will deal with his future after meeting with Holland.

“Pavel is concentrating on helping his team to make the playoffs and winning another Stanley Cup for the Detroit Red Wings,” Milstein said in an e-mail when reached by The Detroit News. “Pavel also has one more year left on his NHL contract. We will sit down with Ken Holland at the conclusion of the season for our annual year end meeting.”