Datsyuk’s KHL Years Make Him the Winningest of All Time

After recently signing with his hometown club in Yekaterinburg, Russia, it now seems clear that Pavel Datsyuk’s career will finish in the KHL. “The Magic Man” will end up just shy of 1000 NHL games played, but his postseason record is what truly sets him apart from other active European skaters. Datsyuk is the definition of a winner, appearing in the playoffs in each of his 14 NHL seasons as well as five times in the Russian top division.

Like most Russian superstars, Datsyuk has also represented his country whenever possible. His national team accolades are just as impressive as the many club awards, making him hockey’s first ever “Sirius Award” winner (Triple Gold Club + Gagarin Cup Championship). The Hockey Writers looked at Datsyuk’s last few years in the KHL and what made his trophy cabinet more impressive than anyone else’s.

Gagarin Cup with SKA St. Petersburg

Datsyuk returned to Russia after the 2015–16 NHL season. The Detroit Red Wings were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and this marked the end of Detroit’s historical 25-season playoff run. From there, Datsyuk headed to the World Championships in Moscow and added a bronze medal to his already impressive collection.

Gusev Datsyuk
Rivals in the 2012-13 NHL lockout season, Pavel Datsyuk and Nikita Gusev joined forces in St. Petersburg four years later. (Photo: Alexander Golovko)

In 2016–17, Datsyuk hit the jackpot with SKA St. Petersburg. During his first season with the club, he played alongside Ilya Kovalchuk, Yevgeni Dadonov, Vadim Shipachyov and Nikita Gusev, who were all scored over a point per game during the regular season. Other notable names in the star-filled roster were Slava Voynov and goalies Mikko Koskinen and Igor Shestyorkin. In the playoffs, Datsyuk was limited to seven games, but the team went 16–2, marching their way to victory.

Datsyuk played in the KHL All-Star Game in the championship-winning season and was honored with the KHL Faith Towards Hockey Award a year later. The award is given annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. In the 2017–18 and 2018–19 KHL seasons, SKA St. Petersburg was eliminated in the conference final. Datsyuk played a total of 169 games and scored an impressive 133 points during his three seasons with SKA.

Olympic Gold with Team Russia

Russia’s bronze medal in the 2016 World Championships was followed by a semi-final exit in the World Cup of Hockey. For Datsyuk, the tournament marked his last appearance on North American ice, as he jumped to the KHL right after. Team Russia lost in the semi-finals again, this time to the hosts and eventual winners, Team Canada. The Magic Man was sidelined against Canada due to a lower-body injury, unable to produce the magic his team needed.

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, presented Datsyuk with his last crack at joining the Triple Gold Club, after four previous attempts, starting with Salt Lake City in 2002. Led by Datsyuk’s SKA teammate, Gusev, the controversial Olympic Athletes from Russia finally took home the gold after a thrilling overtime finish against Team Germany. The trophy was handed the captain: Datsyuk.

Pavel Datsyuk Russia Olympics
The gold medal was a huge thing for Datsyuk and all of Russia. (Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports)

After the final, Datsyuk didn’t hold back his emotions. He stated that the gold medal fulfilled his dream, leaving him with none. He ranked Olympic gold above his two Stanley Cups, something that not many players would consider. Datsyuk and his team didn’t let the generic Olympic anthem and flag bother them when their beloved country was again crowned the best of the best in hockey.

Future with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg

So, what lies ahead for the newly-named Pride of Russia? After being awarded in Russia’s 2018 Athletes of the Year ceremony, Datsyuk’s potential NHL return was a hot topic in Detroit. Unfortunately for all NHL fans, Datsyuk opted to stay closer to his family and signed with his hometown club Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg on June 5, 2019. Though disappointing, the decision was understandable for a 41-year-old veteran and future Hall of Famer.

“My Beloved Yekaterinburg!”

Datsyuk played for various teams in Yekaterinburg in the 1990s, but spent both NHL lockout seasons in Moscow and later moved to St. Petersburg. However, Avtomobilist is nothing to laugh at, having made the playoffs in five of their last six seasons. Recent acquisitions of Peter Holland, Nigel Dawes and Dan Sexton show that the club is making a strong name for itself. Add in Datsyuk, and the team should be one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference.

Although Datsyuk’s signing may seem like just another fancy PR stunt, it’s good to remember that the man can still produce in a big way. He may have lost a step or two, but as we all know, his masterful playing style is not dependent on foot speed. When it comes to off-ice training, he is as professional as they come, allowing his body to keep up with younger players. Injuries have remained manageable and Yekaterinburg should see a healthy – and productive – Datsyuk on the ice in August.