DETROIT – The Red Wings got the best off-season news that they could get Tuesday when Pavel Datsyuk and his agent walked into Ken Holland’s office and agreed to terms on a new three-year contract extension that will keep the Russian star in Detroit through the 2016-17 season.
“Based on a couple of brief conversations that I had with Gary Greenstin over the last couple of months, I felt that there was an interest in Pav to stay,” Holland said. “I had my exit interview last week with Pav and we talked a little bit. He called his agent and in the next few days we were able to get the extension done.”
The news comes as a relief to the Red Wings and their fans, especially after rumors circulated throughout the lockout-shortened season that Datsyuk was planning to leave the NHL for the Kontinental Hockey League after his current contract in Detroit expired. Speculation only intensified during the playoffs when a Russian newspaper reported that a KHL club had made a lucrative offer to Datsyuk.
“I know where the rumors are coming from. Maybe he doesn’t like me coming here,” said Datsyuk, as he shopped in the Red Wings merchandise warehouse for gifts to take to family and friends in Russia. “I would be happy to play back home, but I know it’s better for me to stay here for my professional career.
“I am happy to be staying with a good family where I have had lots of fun and feel comfortable.”
Part of his decision to stay in Detroit – where he has played ever since he was selected in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL draft – was to return to the core group of players with Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard.
“This is big part, and I’m happy to stay with a good group,” said Datsyuk, who later this week will return to Russia, where for the sixth straight summer he will help run a youth hockey camp. “I see lots of optimism. If you don’t see optimism, maybe you die.”
For Holland, reaching an agreement with Datsyuk before the free agency period, which starts July 5, was just as exhilarating.
“It was important to get Pav done before he went back home for the summer,” Holland said. “When you’re heading into July 5 and not sure if Pav is going to be here in a year it can affect your thinking. Now we know for a lot of reasons, from a salary cap commitment, from a player commitment, we know the core of our team moving forward. It’s Pav and Z and Kronwall and Jimmy Howard.”
A four-time NHL All-Star, Datsyuk is widely considered the game’s best two-way player in the world. A phenomenal stick-handler with incredible defensive instincts, he often makes opposing goaltenders look foolish with his magician-like highlight reel goals. During his 11 season career, Datsyuk has won the Selke Trophy, as the league’s best defensive forward, three times (2008-10), and the Lady Byng Trophy, for sportsmanship, four times (2006-09).
Datsyuk, who will turn 35 on July 20, already ranks among the Red Wings’ regular-season and playoff greats. He’s sixth in regular-season points (767) and sixth in assists (512), while he’s equally productive in the postseason, ranking sixth in assists (67), seventh in points (103), and 10th in goals (36).
“He’s a world class player,” Holland said. “With Pav winning the Selkes and seeming to be in the voting every year, he’s probably the best two-way forward in the world. He’s committed to fitness, he trains really hard, he’s mentally tough, he competes. He has a lot of hockey left in him and it probably wouldn’t surprise me if he’s doing an extension with the Detroit Red Wings when this contract is over.”
Plenty of forwards have had productive NHL years into their 40s, including such former Red Wings’ notables as Gordie Howe (51), Igor Larionov (43) and Alex Delvecchio (41). All three Hockey Hall of Famers produced more than 40 points in each of their final full seasons.
Datsyuk will be 38-years-old when his contract extension ends in 2017, but he said he’ll play as long as he remains healthy and can still contribute.
“If you recognize that those guys played a longtime ago and the game has changed,” he said. “Now you see (Teemu) Selanne, you see (Jaromir) Jagr. They all play and they play big roles on the team. This is the example.
“I don’t look at age. If you can keep up your level of play, why not play?”
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