Pavel Datsyuk leaving KHL team; return to Red Wings ‘absolutely’ possible

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – Could Pavel Datsyuk return to the NHL?

Some things are falling into place that make that a possibility.

Former Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk, 41 when the NHL season begins, announced Tuesday night on Twitter he is not returning to SKA St. Petersburg of the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.

Datsyuk, 41 when the NHL season begins, announced Tuesday night on Twitter he is not returning to SKA St. Petersburg of the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, after signing a one-year contract extension with the team in April 2018.

With that news – following increasing speculation since before the end of the NHL season – there’s reason to believe Datsyuk wants to return to North America.

And that likely would mean a return to the Red Wings. Datsyuk could also elect to finish his playing career for his hometown team Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in the KHL.

Dan Milstein, Datsyuk’s agent, said if Datsyuk were to return to the NHL, it would only be with the Red Wings.

“Absolutely,” Milstein told The Detroit News on Wednesday. “The only team he’d play for in the National Hockey League would be the Detroit Red Wings. With that said, if he was to entertain returning to the NHL, I would be speaking to John Chayka (Arizona Coyotes general manager, since the Coyotes own Datsyuk’s rights) before I would approach anybody else.

“(But) if Pavel decides to continue to explore the possibility of playing in the National Hockey League, I can tell you the only club he would play for would be the Detroit Red Wings.

“He would not consider any other options.”

Milstein said he has not yet been in contact with Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman.

Since Datsyuk’s NHL rights are owned by the Coyotes, the Red Wings cannot publicly comment.

Datsyuk starred for 14 seasons with the Wings before leaving after the 2015-16 season to be closer to his daughter in Russia.

The Wings traded Datsyuk’s rights to the Coyotes after the 2016 season to free salary-cap space. The Coyotes own Datsyuk’s rights until July 1, 2019, at which time he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.

Milstein said Datsyuk playing for Datsyuk’s hometown team of Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg is also a viable option.

“At this point he’s going to have to decide where he wants to play,” Milstein said. “How much does he want to play, another year, or two years? If it’s only one year, the decision would probably be returning home (to Russia), right?

“If it’s one and one, he could play one year here and one year there, right?

“He has to decide what he wants to do.”

Milstein said Datsyuk is flying to Detroit “in the coming days” to discuss options.

“Pavel is going to take a bit of time to make his decision,” Milstein said. “He’s flying into Detroit with his family to spend time in Detroit. For the first time since (returning to Russia), he’ll be here.

“We’re going to meet socially and we’re going to talk about his options. He has to decide what his next step is going to be. (But) basically, he’s not going to retire.

“He has not decided what the next step is.”

Datsyuk won three Selke trophies (2008-10) as the NHL’s best defensive forward, was part of two Stanley Cup championship teams (2002, 2008), and was generally regarded as the NHL’s best two-way forward in the game before leaving for Russia.

In his final season with the Wings, Datsyuk has 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 66 games before going without a point in five playoff games as the Wings lost to Tampa Bay.

Datsyuk played 135 games in the last three seasons with St. Petersburg, totaling 111 points (32 goals, 79 assists). This past season, Datsyuk had 42 points (12 goals, 30 assists) in 54 games, then had seven points (one goal, six assists) in 12 playoff games before the team was eliminated.

Datsyuk’s main career highlight since returning to Russia was arguably winning a gold medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics with Olympic Athletes from Russia.

Yzerman and Datsyuk were teammates for four seasons before Yzerman retired as a player.

The Wings are going through a rebuilding process, and young players such as forwards Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha have taken on larger roles. There’s also the possibility of recent draft picks Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina both making the roster next season.

Datsyuk would have to be willing to accept less ice time than he has been used to, but Wings scouts who’ve seen him play this season believe his playmaking and instincts would continue to make him effective in the NHL.

Twitter: @tkulfan