Pavel Datsyuk (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
With Pavel Datsyuk announcing publicly that he might go back to Russia after this season, he potentially leaves the Detroit Red Wings in a very bad situation. But he's a good guy and a great player, so that seems to be OK.
So through all of this Pavel Datsyuk news, one key question emerges. Can anyone explain how what Datsyuk might do in 2016 to the Detroit Red Wings is any different than what Chris Pronger did to the Edmonton Oilers a decade ago?
Well, there is the fact that Pronger orchestrating his departure from Edmonton in 2006 would not have left the Oilers with a potentially crippling hit leaving them in salary cap hell, so there is that. But aside from that, nothing. Both were superstars who left their teams and turned their backs on contracts they had signed in good faith. Both of them left for family reasons.
So why is that Datsyuk is being portrayed as a man of great character and honor, a guy who has ‘earned’ the right to basically go back on his contractual word? And why is it that despite a Hall of Fame career, Pronger will always be remembered as the a-hole who left the Oilers high and dry?
Can you say Double Standard? That’s OK, it happened when Scott Niedermayer decided he wanted to spend more time with his family and pulled the chute on the Anaheim Ducks a few years back. I argued at the time it was selfish. Guys who refuse to honor their contract over money or those who refuse to honor their contract for time with their families are both selfish. Just in different ways.
Your trusty correspondent was speed-bagged on Twitter yesterday for suggesting that Datsyuk’s image would be tarnished by doing this, that potentially leaving the organization on the hook for a $7.5 million cap hit and timing his announcement for three days before the start of the playoffs was a bad move. One guy told me to eat my toilet, whatever the heck that means.
However, I will not be chewing on porcelain anytime soon and I will not back down. What Datsyuk is doing is risking putting the organization in one terrible bind. Because the contract was signed after Datsyuk turned 35, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that could take it off the books. As thn.com pointed out last week, the Red Wings could try to move the contract to a team that needs the cap hit to get up to the salary floor. That team would then agree to terminate Datsyuk’s deal, which would allow him to play in the KHL. The two leagues have an agreement to respect each other’s contracts so terminating his NHL deal is the only way Datsyuk would be able to play in Russia next season.
Datsyuk’s agent, Daniel Milstein, said the Red Wings told him they would not trade Datsyuk’s contract, but the Red Wings haven’t uttered a word publicly about the Datsyuk situation. When asked by thn.com, Red Wings GM Ken Holland would not say what his plans are concerning Datsyuk and reiterated that he would only address the situation after the playoffs. Undoubtedly Holland has a plan here. We just don’t know what it is yet.
Which brings us back to Datsyuk, who apparently ‘earned’ the right to do this, essentially because he’s an all-round good guy and great teammate and has given the Red Wings 14 seasons of loyal service. But what about the organization that has paid him $73.6 million in career earnings to play for it and is fully willing to give him another $5.5 million next season? What about the organization that offered a declining and injury-prone 36-year-old a three-year contract worth $22.5 million. Why is the Red Wings fault for offering him a deal that’s one year too long, but Datsyuk bears none of the responsibility for accepting it, then possibly turning his back on it?
And how on Earth does anyone earn the right to go back on his word? Are professional athletes that entitled that there’s almost no sense of accountability? If Datsyuk were in such decline that he could no longer play in the league, the Red Wings would not be able to send him home and not pay him anymore. That’s not the way it works. But if a player decides in mid-contract that he needs to be home with his family more, he gets a free pass.
This is not about money. Datsyuk has enough to keep his children’s children’s children supported for life. Others who took me to task about Datsyuk pointed out that the ligaments in his ankles are from cadavers and that he’s essentially being kept together with a ball of string and some Krazy Glue. Fine. If that’s the case, show up for training camp next season and be declared unfit to play so the Red Wings would be able to place him on the long-term injury list for the season and not bear the cap ramifications. But again, that would mean he wouldn’t be able to play in the KHL either.
It seemed when Datsyuk was asked about his plans a day later, he was almost backpedalling. “Never say never,” was the new rallying cry. But you don’t spill your plans to one of the country’s foremost sports columnists and time it for the end of the season if you’re not really, really serious about your intentions. Chances are, Datsyuk’s gone.
But he’s one of the good guys, which is why the vast majority of people will be able to overlook this. But it will be interesting to see if those same Red Wing fans who are leaping to Datsyuk’s defense will be as forgiving next season if this situation lands their team in a world of hurt.