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Red Wings GM works magic in Datsyuk trade

Deal with Arizona clears cap space for Detroit to pursue Stamkos, top forwards

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

BUFFALO -- Ken Holland pulled a rabbit out of his hat when he traded the "Magic Man."

The general manager of the Detroit Red Wings unloaded the $7.5 million salary-cap charge of center Pavel Datsyuk at the NHL Draft at First Niagara Center on Friday, opening space to bolster his roster via trade or free agency.

To do it, he made a deal with the Arizona Coyotes in which he moved back four spots in the first round and gained a second-round pick when he didn't have a third-round selection. He acquired forward Joe Vitale, who has one year left on his contract with a $1.1 million cap charge. But Vitale played one game because of a concussion last season. If the Red Wings put him on long-term injured reserve, his cap charge won't count.

For the Red Wings, that's an outstanding move and a huge relief.

"Obviously we've got the flexibility now to do what we want to do," Holland said. "We'll see."

What do the Red Wings want to do?

Holland can't say specifically because of tampering rules. But he said in general terms that they were looking for forwards. Among the pending unrestricted free agents is Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos. Others include David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo.

Teams could speak to free agents as soon as Friday turned into Saturday and the interview period began. Asked if he would be on the phone at 12:01 a.m., Holland said: "I don't know about 12:01, but certainly I'll be on the phone [Saturday]."

Holland was in a difficult situation. Datsyuk was one of the best players in the Red Wings' storied history, a four-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy, a three-time winner of the Selke Trophy, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, nicknamed the "Magic Man" for his Houdini-like moves. Datsyuk remained one of the Red Wings' best players at age 37 and had one season left on his contract.

But Datsyuk decided to return home to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League and be closer to his daughter, even though he knew under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement the Red Wings would have to deal with his $7.5 million cap charge. He announced he was leaving on June 18.

Video: Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland on deal with Arizona

Holland seemed pessimistic about his chances of trading Datsyuk's contract at the time. Maybe he was managing expectations. Maybe he was posturing for trade partners. Or maybe he was being realistic, considering few teams seemed able, let alone willing, to absorb Datsyuk's cap charge for a reasonable price. Holland did not want to give up too much in assets, especially top young players.

In the end, Holland said more teams were interested than he expected, but many of them wanted to unload bad contracts as part of any deal. Holland felt he could make some deals if he needed cap space when free agency opened July 1, but he would have paid a steeper price than he did Friday.

Coyotes GM John Chayka called Holland during the draft because a player his staff liked was dropping. The Red Wings held the No.16 pick; the Coyotes held the No. 20 pick. Detroit traded Datsyuk and the No.16 pick to the Coyotes for the No. 20 pick, No. 53 pick and Vitale.

This was not a bad deal for the Coyotes. They drafted the player they wanted, Jakob Chychrun, a defenseman from Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League. They gave up a second-round pick, but they had cap space, won't have to pay Datsyuk's salary and got out of paying Vitale's salary.

Video: John Chayka sits to talk about the draft picks

The deal itself is a great one for the Red Wings. But we still have to see what happens.

How do they use the cap space? It will be easier said than done to sign Stamkos, let alone the other top targets.

How do the draft picks turn out? After the Coyotes took Chychrun, the Nashville Predators took Dante Fabbro, a defenseman from Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League; the Winnipeg Jets took Logan Stanley, a defenseman from Windsor of the OHL; and the New York Islanders took Kieffer Bellows, a forward from USA Hockey's National Team Development Program. The Red Wings ended up with Dennis Cholowski, a defenseman from Chilliwack of the BCHL. Their scouts love him for his skating ability.

But now the Red Wings have a chance to make a splash and maybe even replace Datsyuk, which they were going to have to do eventually anyway.

"Obviously, it's huge," Holland said. "It's seven and a half million dollars."

Now the next step.

"Hopefully spend it," Holland said.

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