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

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Pavel Datsyuk announces his decision to return to Russia on Saturday at Orchard Lake St. Mary's.

Orchard Lake – No more speculation – Pavel Datsyuk is gone.

The long-time, magical Red Wings playmaker confirmed Saturday he is leaving the NHL and returning to Russia.

Datsyuk, who’ll be 38 next month, wants to be closer to his teenage daughter. He has also consistently said over the years he would like to play in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League before his career is over and will do so beginning next season.

“My family and I are grateful for our time here in Detroit,” Datsyuk said Saturday at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, where he is running a skills development camp for kids. “This was not an easy decision. But it’s time to return home.”

“After the season, after the world championships (in Russia in May), then I went on vacation with my family, just relaxed and made my final decision.

“I’m old enough to accept responsibility. It’s my decision.”

Datsyuk’s is leaving with one year remaining on his three-year contract and the Wings will have a $7.5 million salary-cap hit. Datsyuk’s agent, Dan Milstein, said Saturday that he believes the Wings will be able to trade that cap hit to a team that needs to spend to reach the cap minimum.

Holland ‘not optimistic’ about dealing Datsyuk’s contract

Had Datsyuk played for the Wings in 2016-17, he would have earned $5.5 million.

Milstein said Datsyuk didn’t accept a $2 million bonus due in February – the bonus was contingent on him playing his third and final season – an indication he was seriously thinking of returning to Russia.

“Pavel has been talking about going back as early as the last lockout (2012),” Milstein said. “He’s wanted to do what was right for the team and fans.”

Datsyuk revealed late in the regular season he was leaning toward returning to Russia, and the issue hung over the team during the final days of the regular season and during the first-round playoff exit to Tampa Bay.

Datsyuk informed Holland of his decision Friday.

Datsyuk received opinions from many teammates and others in the organization, he said, and everyone was supportive.

But “when you make a decision, it’s hard to change anything,” Datsyuk said.

Datsyuk’s 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth lives in Russia with Datsyuk’s first wife.

“He only gets to see her a couple months out of the year,” Milstein said. “It’s been extremely difficult for him. Like he said, it’s time to go home.”

Returning to Russia has been weighing heavily on Datsyuk’s mind since the last NHL lockout in 2012, when he had an opportunity to play there half the season.

“When I came back I really in my mind was thinking more about going home,” Datsyuk said.

Part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams with the Red Wings, Datsyuk three times won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward. He also won the Lady Byng award for sportsmanship four times.

Returning from ankle surgery last summer, Datsyuk played in 66 games in what turned out to be his final season in Detroit, scoring 16 goals with 28 assists.

Datsyuk said the ankle injury did not hasten his retirement from the NHL.

In 953 regular-season games with the Red Wings, Datsyuk had 918 points (314 goals, 604 assists). In 157 playoff games he had 113 points (42 goals, 71 assists).

The curious part now: What will the Red Wings will do with the $7.5 million salary-cap hit? Because he signed the contract when he was past age 35, that cap hit will remain with the team as dead money unless the Wings can trade it.

“I leave my team in a tough situation but I believe in our management, they’re the best in the NHL,” Datsyuk said.

Holland has said he would not trade an early-round draft pick or top prospect to simply get rid of Datsyuk’s salary cap space for one year.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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Pavel Datsyuk gives instructions during his camp at Orchard Lake St. Mary's on Saturday morning.