Holland ‘not optimistic’ about dealing Datsyuk’s contract

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Pavel Datsyuk runs drills during his youth hockey camp Saturday morning at Orchard Lake St. Mary's. He later announced his was leaving the Red Wings.

Detroit – Pavel Datsyuk is gone, but that one season left on his contract and resulting $7.5 million salary cap space remains.

And judging from general manager Ken Holland’s comments Saturday, it may not be easy to trade that contract.

Holland has spoken to a few teams who might be interested, but judging from their asking prices, the Red Wings may simply sit on that $7.5 million rather than part with any high draft picks or top prospects.

“I talked to some teams over the last couple of days and we’ll see if I can move the contract,” said Holland, just two hours after Datsyuk announced he’s retiring from the NHL and returning to Russia. “I’m not overly optimistic.

“Teams are looking for a lot of future assets. There’s a price to be paid to free up the cap space. But it’s going to be one of our top young players or a high draft pick, I don't know if it makes a lot of sense.

“I’ll continue to work the phones and if there’s a deal that makes sense for a team to acquire his cap space and makes sense for us, we’ll do a deal. If not, we’ll work the best we can with Pavel in our cap space.”

If there’s no trade by the start of free agency July 1, it’s unlikely Holland would be able to move the contract afterward.

'Time to go home': Pavel Datsyuk leaves Red Wings

“I’ve been talking to a small group of teams that have expressed interest,” said Holland; those teams are believed to be Arizona and Carolina, and possibly New Jersey. “Obviously, the intent would be to do something to free up cap space. If you get to July 6, 7 or 8, and the free-agent market has come and gone, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Holland indicated this situation has been brewing for at least two seasons, with Datsyuk yearning to return to Russia to be closer to his family.

Holland said Datsyuk came into Holland’s office one week into the first year of this present three-year contract, and told Holland that particular season (2014-15) would be his last in the NHL.

At the conclusion of that season, in June 2015, it took a meeting with Mike and Marian Ilitch  and Holland, along with Datsyuk and his agent Dan Milstein, to convince Datsyuk to stay another season.

Holland said he told Datsyuk, “If you honor the 2015-16 season and if you decide to go home for the 2016-17 season, we’ll deal with the situation, and that’s where we are today.

“I had an idea a year ago this will happen.”

If Datsyuk were to have left Detroit before the 2015-16 season, said Holland, the organization was prepared to do whatever it could to prevent Datsyuk from playing in Russia.

Holland believes Datsyuk’s previous agent, Gary Greenstin, didn’t fully explain the ramifications of not fulfilling the entire contract, and particularly the logistics of leaving or retiring after signing a contract past age 35 – which is why the Red Wings find themselves being on the hook for the $7.5 million final year of cap space.

“I don’t think Pav knew the rules,” Holland said.

The Red Wings will be compromised, said Holland, if they can’t trade Datsyuk’s contract.

“We’ll be young and competitive but we’ll be comprised by having $7.5 million tied up on a player you don’t have,” Holland said. “This is a huge loss. It’s a huge hole and it’s very difficult situation. But we’ll manage it.

“I tried to manage it the best I could and tried to get Pavel on our team for the 2015-16 season and now I’ll deal with the decision Pavel made today the best I can.”

Holland wasn’t surprised Datsyuk had no change of heart in recent weeks about returning to Russia.

“He didn’t want to be here anymore,” said Holland. “His heart was not here. He wanted to go home. I’m happy he gave us 14 great years and the 2015-16 season.

“I want to think of the 950 games and two Stanley Cups and about being a role model and bringing people out of their seats. He was such a great player.”