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It has been reported since January, but with popular hockey rumor blog Kukla’s Korner picking up the story a couple days ago, it has caught fire; Pavel Datsyuk will retire following next season.
Fans have been in denial, shock, and some, like myself, have been preparing for this the past couple seasons. It’s not that I’m arrogant enough to consider myself clairvoyant, it’s that the departure of Datsyuk seems logical on several levels.
I think the first and most obvious reason he’ll retire is his age. People forget Datsyuk was drafted in 1998 and made his debut at age 22 in 2001. Despite his immense skill, he was considered an undersized project, not an instant post-draft call-up. I suppose I can see how most fans could believe he began his Red Wing career at 18 or 19, but he actually launched his career at an older age than most of his caliber (as do most Red Wings prospects).
Datsyuk will be 36 at the expiration of the 2014 season. While we’re used to Lidstrom and Yzerman playing into their 40’s (and Chelios into his 50’s), he’s at the end of a contract and we have to remember every athlete is different in their interpretation of their skill. Lidstrom could easily still be playing 20 minutes a night this season, but he has a standard to hold himself to–he has to be at a level to play 25 minutes a night–Datsyuk could be similar is his own standard of greatness.
With age, Datsyuk still shows flashes of stunning brilliance. Hands and intelligence usually stick with elite hockey players, if not improve with age, but speed usually fades. He’s always found that sneaky fifth gear crossing through the neutral zone. If that gear fades, he might not be comfortable enough to continue at an NHL level, even if his other skills over-compensate for what he’s losing.
Datsyuk’s hands appear to not have faded one bit. We were reminded of this as recently as Friday night when he turned Farmington Hills native and son of former Tiger Dan Petry, Jeff Petry, inside out to beat goalie Devin Dubnyk and the Edmonton Oilers in overtime.
But we have to remember the wrist injury that plagued him in 2010-11, the shoulder injury this season, and the foot injury in 2009, hip injury in 2010 and knee injury in 2012 that derailed a trending Hart Trophy-finalist season. He’s missed 47 games from injury the past four seasons. Injuries to his knee and wrist are especially troubling. These injuries began to haunt him once he entered his 30’s, another reminder of Datsyuk’s increasing fragility with age.
The source cited in the Kukla’s Korner write-up said a motivator for Datsyuk moving forward was leaving in relatively good health. Concussions are becoming an epidemic in the NHL and no one–including Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Evegni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin–have been immune. He’s never had a documented concussion. With his physical yet skillful style, he’s often putting himself through high-traffic areas. While Datysuk has been elusive enough to escape head-injuries so far, as cited by the source, entering the rugged and physically bigger Eastern Conference will make staying healthy and concussion free more difficult. With his speed naturally declining, it may only be a matter of time and he realizes that. If he wishes to escape with his brain in tact, I cannot blame him for that wish.
It has also been said, it’s an apparent lock that he will eventually return to play at least a season in Eastern Europe’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Out of all, this is the most tangible reason to believe 2014 will be Datsyuk’s last in Detroit.
In 2005, he signed a one-year contract with Avangard Omsk (then of the Russian Super League) and actually went to arbitration after Moscow Dynamo matched the deal in a battle for his rights. While this battle was going on for him to continue playing in Russia post-2004-05 NHL lockout, the Wings quietly swooped in and settled a modest two-year deal with him right before the opening of the ’05 training camp. He showed interest in staying in Russia then and has recently as two months ago.
In January, it was reported by Russian Sports website, R Sport, that he had “enormous desire” to remain in Russia post-lockout. Both he and New Jersey Devils forward, Ilya Kovalchuk, arrived to training camp late so they could play in the KHL all-star game. While I have a funny feeling those quotes weren’t verbatim–and if they were, Datsyuk may have been speaking impulsively to a Russian audience–I believe there is some sincerity to them.
“I’d be delighted to stay here in Russia and play the season to the end. There’s just enormous desire, but unfortunately, our desires don’t always match our abilities”
He’s in the twilight of his career and may have the desire to dazzle with whatever’s left in the tank in front of HIS people. While he is beloved here, he is an unevquivocle legend in his native land. Aside from pride and loyalty to his country, he may want to play amongst peers who view him as one of the greatest ever to play the game. While he’s viewed with immense respect by hockey fans all over the world (expect probably Canadians) that level of reverence still is not matched to Russia. Many laughed this story off back in January but following the recent flood of rumors, they appear to have full-merit.
Lastly, it’s a point I’ve touched on multiple times in this short run of columns I’ve done so far; The Red Wings are not the franchise they used to be.
This is a reality we all have to face. While some prospects have looked promising (if they’re not being sent back to Grand Rapids) the core has aged and Datsyuk likely realizes he is apart of that. Is this a franchise that will be a perennial Stanley Cup contender for the next five years? Pavel has probably asked himself that question a few times in the past six months–it’s a valid one to ask. The Red Wings will likely be mediocre in their current state with their frosty looking future, stacked up inadequately against the younger, faster and stronger teams in Manhattan, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal. I think it’s logical to believe he doesn’t want to burn off what’s left of his skill barely making the playoffs before an early exit. Taking a victory lap in your home country sounds a lot more appealing if I’m trying to view this from his perspective.
If Datsyuk does depart us in June 2014, please try to do what I am doing; view the decision from his perspective. He’s spent the past 12 years giving us countless highlights–You Tube mixtapes to kill time with, two Stanley Cups, several other pieces of hardware and literal moments of awe. When you call a Datsyuk goal “awesome” you’re not using hyperbole as many coat that adjective with, you were likely literally left standing in awe.
He’s given us years of brilliance, if the time comes in roughly 15 months, I’ll be at peace with whatever decision he chooses to make, but be aware now so you wont be surprised later.
Source In Detroit: Datsyuk’s got one-year left- http://kuklaskorner.com/a2y/comments/source-in-detroit-datsyuks-got-one-year-left?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
Datsyuk Has Regrets Over NHL Return-http://en.rsport.ru/hockey/20130112/639337494.html
Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer