Yesterday came the news that most of us Wings fans saw coming. Pavel Datsyuk announced that he would forgo the final season of his contract and return home to Russia to finish his career. This doesn’t come as a surprise after his announcement late in the year that he was thinking about it. Datsyuk has given a lot to the Detroit Red Wings organization over this 14-year NHL career. The last couple of seasons he’s had a tough time staying healthy and is not the player he once was so maybe just in terms of that, it was time to move on.
Datsyuk said he wanted to finish his career in his home country and be near his teenage daughter from his first marriage. Today, on Father’s Day, how can you really blame him for something like that? Now here comes the part we didn’t know. Three years ago when Detroit started to negotiate a contract extension with Datsyuk, his agent at the time Gary Greenstin. Greenstin wanted a 5-year deal for Pavel and Ken Holland wasn’t comofrtable with that. They ended up agreeing on a 3-year deal, which would start in 2014-15. Holland was under the impression from Greestin that Pavel wanted to retire a Red Wing and would play out all 3 years of the contract, including the year he still had remaining on the old deal for 13-14. Datsyuk’s new contract kicked in when he was 35, and under the NHL CBA if a player’s new deal kicks in at 35 or older, the contract stays on the books regardless. So if Pavel retired halfway through, the Wings had the cap hit of $7.5mil regardless. If Pavel got hit by a car and died, they’d still have the cap hit.
Early in the 14-15 season, Datsyuk told Holland that he thought that season would be his last and Holland tried to explain the cap situation to Pavel. Holland believes there was some miscommunication between Datsyuk and his former agent and that he should have explained to him the ramifications of the deal. Now I’m sure there are fans out there who blame Holland for not explaining it to Pavel but remember that GMs rarely talk to the players and it is the agents job to communicate such things to the player. I’m also sure some fans are saying why didn’t they offer a 1-year deal? Holland’s answer to this was that Pavel probably would have walked back then and another team signed him. And before you say “Well that would be fine now.” Sure, but back in 2014, the same summer the Wings struggled to improve their D through free agency and you were slamming Holland, you would have been cool with Datsyuk walking? Yeah, right. Hindsight sure is nice but you wouldn’t have known all these things 2 years ago, so get off your high horse.
Now comes… what happens next? Ken Holland said after the season ended that he was going to aggressively pursue trades to improve the team. The problem is, with $7.5mil in dead cap space, it will be hard to significantly improve the team. Sure they could trade someone on their roster but remember most of them don’t have too high of salary. Your two highest paid players are Henrik Zetterberg and Mike Green who both make basically $6mil per season and I don’t see either of them being traded. The Red Wings could trade Datsyuk’s contract to a team that needs to get to the salary cap floor, like the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes sit roughly $18mil under the floor so they need to add salary somehow. Ken Holland said yesterday he wasn’t optimistic because he didn’t want to sacrifice a “top guy” of their younger players. Who constitutes a “top guy”? Only Holland and the Wings management knows for sure. Anthony Mantha was mentioned by Holland as an untouchable and I agree. If Pavel had YEARS left, I might feel different but you are talking about 1 year. However, would I trade a Tomas Jurco or a Teemu Pulkkinen? Yes I would. Both seem to be not in the Wings plans and the longer it goes, the more likely they won’t be on the team in a few years as more of the younger players make their way to the big club. Steven Stamkos is an unrestricted free agent this summer and Detroit would be a great fit for him for a number of reasons. You can’t pursue him with Datsyuk still on the books. So the contract hurts free agent spending as well as improving through trades. I understand no top prospects or high picks but Pulkkinen or Jurco and possibly some later round pick? I take that risk if you are serious about improving now and not just “going with the kids.” If Holland had said that was what they were going to do, then fine, but he said he wanted to improve.
There is also the other side of it. A team like the Coyotes who need to get to the floor. I understand asking for the bigger names but they have to know what they would actually be able to get. Would you not take the best you could get at this point? $18mil under the floor and you could get $7.5mil in cap space plus the player and/or pick and get that much closer to the floor for nothing. The player and/or the pick are assets and then you aren’t throwing big stupid money and overpaying a player. You do that and in 2-3 years when your young players need raises, you might come into a problem. Why wouldn’t you do it? You are giving up nothing and only gaining.
I really have no idea where this goes for the Wings. Before Ken Holland spoke on Saturday, I thought it would be an easy decision and move to get rid of the contract but now I’m not sure. Hard for me to think Holland doesn’t find a way since he wants to improve this team. BUT I want to remind all the fans, that if Holland is unable to trade Datsyuk’s contract, or unwilling to move certain assets to do it, what were you saying at the end of the season about what the Wings should do? I saw A LOT of people saying to blow it up and let the kids play. If they are unable to move Datsyuk’s contract then they are “blowing it up” as much as this team can since they don’t have too many bad contracts and they would be letting the kids play. So don’t get mad if this team does that and isn’t all that good if 2 months ago you wanted them to be bad and get higher draft picks because your wish might be right around the corner.