Pavel Datsyuk confirms he will leave NHL after playoffs

Pavel Datsyuk has finally confirmed what many have speculated about for the past several weeks: he will leave the NHL at the conclusion of the playoffs to finish his career in Russia.

“I’m thinking I go home after this season,” Datsyuk told Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press in a long discussion at the home of his agent and friend, Dan Milstein. “I may not be done with hockey, but — it is hard to say — I think I am done playing in NHL.”

To his credit, Datsyuk wanted to be the one to tell fans of his decision and not hear it from other sources. Rumors emerged several weeks ago that this could be the 37-year-old’s last season in the NHL, but he remained mum on the topic and wanted to focus on helping Detroit make it into the postseason for a 25th consecutive year.

“Because of the rumors out there, I wanted to clear this up now before the playoffs started so I can focus only on giving my best playoff performance. And I wanted the fans to hear it from me, not someone else.”

It’s no surprise that Datsyuk wants to finish his playing career in Russia, which is something that he has indicated several times over the years. According to Albom, Datsyuk was feeling the tug last year so he could be closer to his daughter, Elizabeth.

“I talk with my daughter all the time,” he told Albom in a conversation last May. “I see how she misses me, how she misses my advice…I want to come back and be closer.”

Datsyuk was still a force with the Red Wings at the time, and after numerous discussions with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and team owners Mike and Marian Ilitch, he decided to stay. Then he started to experience soreness in his right ankle, an injury that team doctors initially thought was puck related. They immediately scheduled off-season surgery for Datsyuk—a procedure that was expected to take 45 minutes.

It took four hours.

The procedure revealed that “both of Pavel’s tendons were completely gone, destroyed; they had to use cadaver (replacements),” Milstein said. “Dr. Anderson said he didn’t think any active athlete could go through this and recover enough to go back to playing on the ice.”

But Datsyuk returned, albeit later than anticipated thanks to a late-summer surgery to deal with an infection in his rebuilt ankle that caused him to miss the first 15 games of the regular season. While he showed flashes of brilliance this season, it was clear that he had slowed down a step due in part to his age, and mostly because of his ankle. It was a perfect storm of circumstances causing Datsyuk to make the decision to go home after this season instead of finishing out his contract with the Red Wings.

Datsyuk knows that the decision will hamstring the Wings, who will be on the hook for his $7.5 million cap hit regardless because of new parameters included in the most recent collective bargaining agreement that state teams are responsible for the cap hit to players who sign after the age of 35 even if they leave or retire. Datsyuk’s new deal kicked in when he was 36.

“I feel very bad about it,” said Datsyuk. “Looking back, I wish I had done a year-by-year contract, not a three-year contract. I stayed (last year) in respect for Ilitch family. I don’t want to leave team in disaster. But if I have to do over again, I would sign a different deal. I didn’t realize it at the time.”

The Red Wings have the option of trading Datsyuk’s contract to a team looking to reach the cap floor—a decision that Datsyuk would accept, understanding that it’s strictly business. Milstein, Datsyuk’s agent, said the Red Wings have told him that would not happen.

With over 900 career points, Datsyuk will leave the Red Wings as one of the most dazzling and gifted players to ever put on the winged wheel. In fact, playing for Detroit is all Datsyuk has ever known—and all he ever wanted in his NHL career.

“Years ago, a star player in NHL came and told me about other teams in league,” Datsyuk said. “He told me how good Red Wings organization is compared with other teams. After that, I only want to stay here.”

“I am happy this year,” he told Albom, “but was like my heart pulled over both sides.”

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