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That Pavel Datsyuk would end his professional hockey career in the Kontinental Hockey League has been a near certainty. He’s called playing in Russia “his dream” and rumors have swirled for years that he’d return to Russia after playing there in the last two NHL lockouts.
On Saturday, Elliotte Friedman revealed on Hockey Night In Canada that Pavel Datsyuk could leave the NHL for the KHL after this season for “family reasons,” adding that “it’s expected that everyone will sit down at the end of the season” to figure out next steps. His agent didn't exactly pour water on that fire when asked about it.
If Datsyuk leaves … well, the Red Wings are basically screwed when it comes to their salary cap next season.
His $7.5 million hit would remain on their cap as he was a 35-and-older player when he signed it. General Fanager has them at 30 contracts next season with a total cap hit of $57.7 million. That’s 11 forwards, four defenseman and Jimmy Howard. That’s a lot of spots to fill with $7.5 million in dead weight dragging them down.
GM Ken Holland said, to Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News: “I haven’t talked to Pavel. He has a year to go (on his contract). Are the rumors news to me? I hear a lot of rumors. He has a year to go on his contract. I’ll sit down with all of our players at the end of the year, one by one, and talk to them all."
And Datsyuk? Well, he spoke for the first time about the rumors on Monday and … didn’t exactly dismiss the idea he could leave.
Datsyuk has 16 goals and 32 assists this season in 63 games, which matches his total games from last season. While he’s in decline and turns 38 this summer, he’s also one year from removed from a point-per-game pace. The Red Wings would love nothing more than for him to finish out his contract before bolting, both for the cap chaos it could cause and because Datsyuk is still a vital 20-minute-a-night center.
But if it’s about family, there may be nothing the Wings can do to prevent Datsyuk from heading to Russia.
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