Wings’ best options hinge on trading Datsyuk contract

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Pavel Datsyuk is gone — so now what?

There’s several ways the Red Wings could go now that the longtime center announced he is returning to Russia and foregoing the final year of his three-year contract.

General manager Ken Holland, however, doesn’t paint an optimistic future considering the Red Wings will have a cap hit of $7.5 million courtesy of Datsyuk.

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

Holland’s first move is to attempt to trade Datsyuk’s contract — to a team needing to reach the cap minimum — before the July 1 start to unrestricted free agency.

That would give the Red Wings an opportunity to enter the market and be aggressive — Lightning forward Steven Stamkos is the biggest name available.

But if he is unable to do that — there aren’t many teams who need $7.5 million to reach the floor — the Red Wings will eat the contract and look toward trades as their primary way of reshaping the roster.

Trading partners?

The Red Wings have 17 players and $60.3 million committed for next season, with the cap expected to be around $74 million.

So, trading Datsyuk’s contract would go a long way toward alleviating the cap issue.

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There are several teams who might need a boost to reach the cap floor ($52.8 million last season) — Coyotes, Devils, Predators.

But, teams also would want a high draft pick or talented young player from the Red Wings.

And Holland, it appears, is not willing to do that.

“I talked to some teams over the last couple of days and we’ll see if I can move the contract,” Holland said. “I’m not overly optismistic.

“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.”

All of which leads to believe the Red Wings could be stuck with Datsyuk’s contract.

If, however, they were successful in offloading the deal, the market opens up — and Stamkos is the prize.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, however, said he would like to re-sign Stamkos, although the Lightning, too, will face a salary crunch given its large collection of young talent and limited cap space.

Most estimates put Tampa Bay’s best offer to Stamkos at about $8.5 million for eight years ($68 million total).

Agents and analysts around the league believe Stamkos could command at least $10 million per season.

If Stamkos is not in the cards, there are other good, big, physical forwards the Red Wings could use — David Backes (Blues), Troy Brouwer (Blues), Milan Lucic (Kings ), and even a less-physical but effective Loui Eriksson (Bruins).

Package offer

If the Red Wings are unable to deal Datsyuk’s contract, trades might be the best avenue.

Players such as goaltender Jimmy Howard, defenseman Brendan Smith, and forwards Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist would appear to be the most intriguing options for the Red Wings in their hope to acquire scoring depth or a top-four defenseman.

Howard, for example, has three years left on his contract with a salary cap hit just under $5.3 million. That’s a big price to pay for a goaltender who projects to back up Petr Mrazek.

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But several teams will be trying to trade players beginning at this weekend’s draft. And with an expansion draft next year (with the expected arrival of the Las Vegas expansion team), teams don’t want to lose players for nothing.

And as far as the Red Wings roster goes, Mrazek and defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Alexey Marchenko, and forward Teemu Pulkkinen are restricted free agents and likely will get significant raises.

Mrazek ($737,500 last season) and DeKeyser ($2.125 million), in particular, could see around $3 million per season.

The Red Wings would also like to re-sign potential unrestricted free agent forwards Darren Helm and Drew Miller.

With a lot in play, the roster for next season could take on a different feel.

Holland said last weekend players such as forwards Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi will get every opportunity to make the roster, while defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul are out of minor league options and likely to stay in Detroit.

But a major overhaul?

Tough to imagine, without first getting Datsyuk’s cap space off the books.

On the books

The Red Wings have 17 players committed for roughly $60.3 million, with the cap expected to be roughly $72-74 million. The breakdown:

Pavel Datsyuk…$7.5M

Henrik Zetterberg…$6.08M

Mike Green…$6M

Jimmy Howard…$5.29M

Niklas Kronwall…$4.75M

Gustav Nyquist…$4.75M

Justin Abdelkader…$4.25M

Jonathan Ericsson…$4.25M

Johan Franzen…$3.95M

Tomas Tatar…$2.75M

Brendan Smith…$2.75M

Riley Sheahan…$2.08M

Stephen Weiss…$1.07M*

Dylan Larkin…$925,000

Tomas Jurco…$900,000

Anthony Mantha…$863,333

Luke Glendening…$628,333

Andreas Athanasiou…$628,333

Jakub Kindl…$360,000

Unrestricted free agents: Darren Helm, Drew Miller, Kyle Quincey, Brad Richards

Restricted free agents: Danny DeKeyser, Petr Mrazek, Teemu Pulkkinen

Note: $550,000 in bonuses; * buyout