Should the Red Wings Bring Back Datsyuk?

Could a reunion between Pavel Datsyuk and the Detroit Red Wings be in the works? A return to the NHL is not out of the question, according to Datsyuk’s agent Dan Milstein.

In his third season with SKA St. Petersburg, Datsyuk has recorded 34 points through 44 games. His contract expires at the end of the season and Milstein noted in a recent interview that Datsyuk wants to keep going. Milstein also shared that a return to the Red Wings could work, but it’s ultimately Datsyuk’s decision on where he continues his career. The soft-handed center will be 41 once the 2019-20 NHL season kicks off.

So, is it realistic to expect a Hockeytown homecoming? And if so, what can Datsyuk still bring to the table?

Related – Red Wings Rumors: January Trade Deadline Rumblings

NHL or KHL for Datsyuk?

First and foremost, Datsyuk will need to decide where he’ll want to play next season – another season in the KHL or a return to North America. If he chooses the latter, Milstein noted that there will be plenty of suitors, so a return to the Red Wings is not exactly a given.

Former Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk.
Would Pavel Datsyuk want to endure the rigors of an 82-game NHL season with a rebuilding team? (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Prior to leaving for Russia, Datsyuk shared that being closer to his family played a huge role in his decision during a conversation with Mitch Albom:

It’s not an easy decision. It did not happen yesterday. I talk with my daughter all the time. I see how she misses me, how she misses my advice…I want to come back and be closer.

From this perspective, a return to the NHL seems unlikely. However, Milstein’s comments have apparently shifted since stating in December that an NHL return “isn’t something he has entertained.”

So if Datsyuk is considering another NHL stint, would he choose the Red Wings, who are in the middle of a rebuild? He certainly loved his time in Detroit and may want to right a wrong (his contract debacle), despite the Red Wings not appearing to be a contender anymore. Coming back to help the organization in its darkest hour would be an honorable thing to do.

Further to that point, when speaking with Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, Datsyuk’s agent discussed which NHL teams would likely be considered if the aging star wanted to return:

He spent entire career in Detroit. If he wants to come back, I believe he would only consider the Red Wings.

Datsyuk’s Cost & Fit With the Red Wings

If Datsyuk were to return to the NHL, he could still command a decent salary. While Ilya Kovalchuk’s $6.25 million AAV with the Los Angeles Kings is a little high, it does provide a starting point. Considering Datsyuk and Kovalchuk’s age differences and production in the KHL, the former could reasonably get a one-year, $4-to-5 million deal on the open market – a steep price to pay for someone likely manning the third-line center role.

Los Angeles Kings left wing Ilya Kovalchuk
Datsyuk could follow in the footsteps of Ilya Kovalchuk and Jaromir Jagr, who spent time in Russia and later returned to the NHL. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

For better or for worse, the Red Wings have the cap space to bring back Datsyuk at this rate and could plug him into their third line. Wouldn’t that be something to see Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen flanking him next season?

As far as production goes, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect 35-to-40 points from the former NHL All-Star. Emmanuel Perry’s NHLe model converts Datsyuk’s KHL output to 47, 58, and 47 points during an 82-game NHL season across his past three KHL seasons, respectively. But that also brings up another concern: his durability.

Whether in the KHL or NHL, Datsyuk hasn’t played a full season since the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season. Expecting him to play in all 82 games would be absurd. Is that what a rebuilding team needs?

Related – The Grind Line: Red Wings Midseason Prospect Rankings & Analysis

Final Word

Red Wings fans may not like to hear it, but a veteran presence is needed on a young team. Henrik Zetterberg is gone. Niklas Kronwall, Thomas Vanek and Gustav Nyquist could be out the door soon as well.

Former Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
With Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall (likely) gone, would Datsyuk want to return to the Red Wings? (Icon SMI)

Bringing back Datsyuk would insert an NHL legend into Detroit’s locker room and give the team a resource to lean on as they grow into a contender. He has been through everything – he’s won two Stanley Cups, experienced crushing defeats and found a way to change his game to keep up with the NHL’s pace of play, much like Igor Larionov did when Datsyuk first entered the league.

Don’t forget – Datsyuk has also produced at international tournaments against the world’s best since leaving the NHL. He’s been a point-per-game player for Russia (or “Olympic Athletes of Russia”) in 33 international contests since 2016. He can still bring it.

Finally, if all the stars align and Datsyuk returns for another season with the Red Wings, what would their lineup look like? He are possible forward lines with pending free agents taken into account:

Anthony Mantha Dylan Larkin Tyler Bertuzzi
Andreas Athanasiou Frans Nielsen Darren Helm
Michael Rasmussen Pavel Datsyuk Filip Zadina
Justin Abdelkader Luke Glendening Evgeny Svechnikov
Jacob de la Rose Christoffer Ehn

If the price was right and Datsyuk wanted to come back to the Red Wings, I would be all for it. His experience and leadership would certainly help the rebuild.

Would you want the Detroit Red Wings to re-sign Pavel Datsyuk if the opportunity arose? Share your thoughts below.