This is the 13th season that Red Wings nation has had the privilege of seeing Pavel Datsyuk sport the classic red and white. Throughout those 13 seasons, we have seen him pull off some of the most amazing things imaginable. Just when defenders think he’s going left, he makes a hard cut to the right. He has lived in the nightmares of opposing goalies since he debuted in the league in 2001. But, is the Datsyuk we are seeing this year the same one we have seen in years past?
Before we get too far into this, let’s make one thing clear. Pavel Datsyuk is going nowhere. He will not be traded. He will not be bought out. There is no other NHL team that will boast him in their lineup. When his contract is over after next season, he will probably go back to Russia and play in the KHL. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on.
It’s inevitable. Eventually, Father Time catches up with every professional athlete. Though we’ve seen his name on eight different individual trophies (four Lady Byng’s, three Selke’s, and a plus/minus award), it seems like that might be the case with Datsyuk – at least in the area of his personal production. Sure, he missed the first 15 games of the season with an ankle injury, plus took a couple games to get back into game shape. But, through his 24 games, he has just 15 points (five goals, 10 assists). At this pace, he will finish the year somewhere around 58 points.
It’s been a while since we have seen a classic “Datsyukian Deke”, but he is still a master on the fore-check and back-check. We’ve seen it time and time again, this year included. His dogged pace when trying to steal possession is unparalleled. Though only having been credited with 16 takeaways to this point of the season, he is still one of the most talented defensive forwards in the league.
Although his production is down this year, there’s still something special about the way his mere presence elevates his teammates play when he is in the lineup. In the 15 games that he didn’t play to start the year, the team averaged 2.27 goals per game. In the 24 games he has played in, the team average is 2.71 goals per game.
Mainly playing on a line with Brad Richards and Darren Helm this season could be a reason for the decline in offensive production, as Helm has struggled and Richards was not primarily brought to Detroit for his offensive abilities. There have been stretches of the year where he doesn’t collect many (if any) shots on goal. He has been credited with just 55 (2.3 per game) to this point.
While his production has taken a bit of a tumble this year, is Datsyuk still worth $7.5 million this season and next? In my opinion, absolutely. As I stated before, the team is simply better with him in the lineup. He creates offense for his teammates, and in turn, that ultimately creates offense for himself. The experience for younger players on the roster (Dylan Larkin, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, etc…) of playing with someone of Datsyuk’s caliber is irreplaceable. There is nobody better to learn from, and that is something that carries plenty of value as well.
So, are we seeing the same Pavel Datsyuk we have seen over the years? Well, no… but he is still irreplaceable.