Krupa: Declining skills might be at heart of Datsyuk’s decision

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Pavel Datsyuk

Detroit — Pavel Datsyuk did not appreciate that his status for next season became a story over the weekend.

The feeling he conveyed is he especially did not like that his family was dragged into it.

But it is noticeable, over the years, how much news about the Red Wings is made, usually without sources, on Saturday nights in the Canadian cities when Detroit travels there. And the media scrum that occurred in the Wings’ dressing room in Joe Louis Arena Monday did little to dispel the notion that Datsyuk will, in fact, give his status for next season some thought, despite the year remaining on his contract with $7.5 on the table.

It does not please him, clearly, that the topic came up now, with three games remaining to determine the success of a season that began six months ago – and, for Datsyuk, in recovery from fairly involved surgery on his ankle.

But Datsyuk is clearly mindful of his desire to play in Russia, in front of family, friends and his countrymen, before he retires. He is also mindful of the extent to which time waits for no mortals, even gifted hockey players adored by their fans.

He also knows that the franchise he has served so well, at times brilliantly, throughout all of his NHL career is not the dynamic powerhouse it once was.

To some degree neither is Datsyuk. But the extent of the decline is not fully discerned, perhaps not even by Datsyuk.

And that may well be the crux of the issue.

Pavel Datsyuk coy about future with Wings

One had the feeling, when he turned to walk back through the curtains that help define the boundaries of interaction in the dressing room, that if Datsyuk was playing a bit better, with all of the old speed and deceptiveness, at age 37 in his 13th year with the Red Wings, there would be little to discuss, beyond the tasks at hand in the three games remaining.

Someone might not have whispered something to someone behind the scenes in Toronto over the weekend, the report might never have aired, and the face-off Monday with the local media might never have occurred.

Datsyuk playing back in Russia, at some point, was known. His continuing search to recover the quickest, most potent offense in his game is obvious, too. But then came a report Saturday in one of the chattering sessions scattered through the hockey on Hockey Night in Canada that he might leave after this season.

The degree to which that is possible was not clear from the report. And nothing Datsyuk said Monday, standing a few feet in front of the giant red and white, winged-wheel crest emblazoned into the carpeting on the floor of dressing room, provided significant clarity.

At first, Datsyuk, ever one for a bit of mischief, portrayed a confused respondent.

“What? What did you say about Russia?” he said. “Are you coming to Russia? I’m not coming to Russia, yet.”

Time for another approach. Are you playing in Detroit next season?

“I have one more year left on my contract. I have three more games left, this year, and that’s what’s more a focus for me, now.”

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

Is he considering leaving, after this season?

“It’s hard to say,” Datsyuk said. “I never know what is going to happen in an hour, let alone a year from now.”

Keeping his humor in mind, and his willingness to poke fun, play the imp and smile through long practices and tough moments on the ice, one did not know quite whether to respond with a chuckle or another question.

The next query arose from what was reported Saturday, that an illness in Datsyuk’s family might be a determining factor.

“Family, is my family,” he said. “I just want to be quiet with family. I don’t want to share information about my family with nobody.”

Was he surprised by the broadcast report? "Everything is something coming out. The next one … is big news too. Everybody is looking for something.”

Can he think of any reason he would not play for the Red Wings, next season? “Who knows? Not everybody knows. I might be injured or something.”

Does he still want to play in Russia? “From the beginning of my career I don’t have enough, or give enough, time with the Russian fans. They helped me when I grew up and, of course, I want to give back to them.”

Is there a time frame after the season for making his decision known? “No. Of course, I need more time.

“But now, it’s very important, the next two games, in Philadelphia and Boston. So I’ll know what I’m thinking about. I can think about the next two games. “That’s more important to me now.”

Is he happy with the direction of the team? “Yes, but not happy with myself, a little bit. Because I’d like to play better, and I’d like to help my team more.”

About a month after he returned, Datsyuk was asked if he was happy with his performance. He said, no, “something’s missing.”

Does he now think he got back whatever it is?

Datsyuk paused, dropped his head a bit and then rallied with a response.

“No actually, I’m still looking,” he said. “I do not feel that I’m back from this injury yet.”

Is that entering into his thoughts about the decision to return?

“Actually, I don’t think about the decision. I think about coming back and playing better.”

If he feels he can, he most likely will.

If he feels he cannot, time to go play for all the folks back home, before all the wondrous skills flicker away.