Sorry, Detroit fans. Pavel Datsyuk's NHL return may forever be on hold.
After months of speculation, 'The Magic Man' will not re-join the Red Wings, instead signing a one-year deal to play for his hometown KHL team, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, next season. This comes on the heels of a three-year stint with SKA St. Petersburg, during which he added an Olympic gold medal to become the oldest and latest member of the Triple Gold Club, adding the top-of-podium Olympic finish to a resume that already included World Championship gold and the Stanley Cup.
Prior to the formation of the KHL, Datsyuk played with Dynamo Yekaterinburg in the Russian Super League and later spent one season with Ak Bars Kazan before embarking on one of the most prolific careers in Red Wings history, winning two Stanley Cups, three Selke Trophies and four consecutive Lady Byng Memorial Trophies. In 953 career games, Datsyuk tallied 918 points with the Red Wings, good for seventh in team history. He also sits safely in sixth for most points by a Russian NHLer, with fellow Red Wings alumnus Sergei Fedorov sitting second with 1179. When he finally does call it quits, he won't have to wait long before he's booking a ticket to Toronto for his Hockey Hall of Fame induction.
For many Red Wings fans, the thought of Datsyuk returning to the Motor City turned out to be nothing more than a tease. The big question: could he actually have performed in the NHL again? Maybe, but he'll be 41 in July and he certainly wouldn't have been the consistent scoring threat he was during the height of his career. Even after a solid 42-point season with SKA in 2018-19, Datsyuk isn't as fast as he used to be and likely would have been a third-liner on a Detroit team that's putting a big emphasis on youth. Of course, Ilya Kovalchuk's disastrous return to North America should be noted, as well.
But you can't scoff at what Datsyuk brought St. Petersburg. One of the best players on a team that, on paper, looked unstoppable, Datsyuk won the KHL's Gagarin Cup in 2017 and fell just short in the conference final in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, Datsyuk, and a large portion of St. Petersburg's core, formed an incredible Olympic roster that defeated Germany in the championship game. In all, Datsyuk has 147 points in 166 KHL games, with his 0.89 points per game good for 16th among players with at least 100 games played and sixth among Russians.
Staying in the KHL next season is a safe, smart decision for Datsyuk. He joins a team that's competitive, loaded with former NHLers Peter Holland, Geoff Platt and Nigel Dawes, who is one of the top forwards in the league, and Datsyuk can potentially help his hometown team make it past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since Avtomobilist joined the KHL in 2009-10.
Given that it's a one-year deal, if there was still a desire for Datsyuk to play in the NHL, he could. This does look like a situation where new Detroit GM Steve Yzerman – a long-time friend and teammate of Datsyuk – may have decided it was best to move on without the Russian sniper, though.
If this does in fact signal the end of Datsyuk's chances of playing in North America, and returning to his hometown team suggests that's the case, it was fun watching you in the NHL, Magic Man.
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