‘Never say never’: Datsyuk could return to Wings, agent says

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Pavel Datsyuk

Detroit – This could be Pavel Datsyuk’s final playoff run with the Red Wings, amid reports Sunday that he is likely to retire from the NHL and return to Russia.

But it’s not a done deal.

Datsyuk’s agent, Dan Milstein, told The Detroit News on Sunday there’s a chance Datsyuk could return to the Red Wings next season to play the final year of his contract.

“Never say never,” Milstein said, “until that plane (to Russia) is up in the air. Obviously, at the conclusion of this season, Pavel will sit down with (Wings general manager) Ken Holland and Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch (Mike and Marian) – he has such respect for all of them – and they’ll discuss the future.

“But this isn’t about the money. It’s never been about the money. Pavel has done very well for himself. This is about family.”

Datsyuk’s contract carries a $7.5 million cap hit for the 2016-17 season.

Holland on Sunday had “no comment until after the playoffs,” he told The Detroit News.

Datsyuk, who will be 38 in July, was unavailable for comment; the Red Wings did not practice Sunday after qualifying for the playoffs Saturday for the 25th consecutive year.

Because the contract was signed after Datsyuk turned 35, per the NHL collective bargaining agreement, the Red Wings are left absorbing the salary cap hit even if Datsyuk leaves for Russia.

Milstein said Datsyuk, currently in his 14th season with the Red Wings, would be willing to work with the Red Wings in any way they’d like to alleviate the salary cap ramifications, should the need arise.

“He’s very loyal to the Red Wings organization and would like to help the Red Wings in whatever way,” Milstein said.

The Red Wings likely will search for a team near the salary cap floor (minimum spending) that would be willing to take on Datsyuk’s salary cap number – $7.5 million – to help that team reach the floor.

But there aren’t many teams in need of adding such a big number, and most teams likely would ask for a prospect in return.

If the Red Wings were to trade Datsyuk’s salary cap number to another team, they would be free to spend an additional $7.5 million this coming offseason.

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Milstein insists this isn’t any sort of contract ploy or to secure an extension.

Datsyuk says he wants to return to Russia to spend time with his daughter Elizabeth, 13, who lives with Datsyuk’s ex-wife.

Milstein said because the Red Wings have been so successful over the years making the playoffs, the summers spent with Elizabeth have been short.

“It’s heartbreaking, really,” Milstein said.

If Datsyuk does return to Russia, he could end his playing career in the Kontentinal Hockey League (KHL). Datsyuk has said previously he’d like to finish his playing career in the KHL.

“It’s no secret Pavel would like to finish his career some day in Russia,” Milstein said. “He feels very loyal to his fans over in Russia, it’s something he’s always wanted to do.”

Datsyuk wanted to elaborate on his plans before the playoffs, said Milstein, so his Red Wings teammates wouldn’t be inundated with questions and everyone could concentrate on the postseason, starting later this week against Tampa Bay.

“He didn’t want this situation to be a burden on the team with the playoffs beginning,” Milstein said. “Pavel is excited about the playoffs and the potential of this team. It’s all he’s been talking about. He is proud of the (playoff) streak.

“Hopefully there will be a long, successful playoff run and then we’ll see where it goes.”

Datsyuk had a delayed start to this season because of surgery for ruptured tendons in his ankle in June that needed another procedure in September, just before training camp began.

The second procedure was needed because of an infection near the ankle.

Datsyuk didn’t begin playing until Nov. 13 and has put together a typically effective offensive season, although not at the pace of previous seasons.

Datsyuk had 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 66 games and repeatedly said he hasn’t been pleased with his consistency or level of production this season.

Many analysts believe the recovery from those surgeries have slowed Datsyuk this season.

Coach Jeff Blashill and captain Henrik Zetterberg – probably Datsyuk’s best friend on the team – said last week, when news first broke of Datsyuk possibly returning to Russia, that the playoffs are the focus now.

“That’s what Pavel is focused on and what we’re focusing on,” Zetterberg said. “You go through that (players leaving or retiring). I don’t know how many times we talked about Nick Lidstrom not being here. Players move on and players will retire and there’s other guys who step up.

“But as I said, we’re focused (on the playoffs).”

Said Blashill: “Anything with the future with players, we’ll sit down at the end of the year and we’ll talk with those players and we’ll see what that brings.”