For Datsyuk, the Hart nomination is the third award that the Red Wings’ star is up for this year. He is also a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy and the Frank Selke Trophy.
“I’m really happy,” Datsyuk said. “It’s exciting, but my mind is on the playoffs.”
Datsyuk will learn his fate -- along with fellow Hart nominees, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin -- when the winners are announced at the NHL Award Show from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas on June 18.
Last spring, Datsyuk was a finalist, and eventual winner of the Lady Byng and Selke awards. His Hart nomination makes the first time that a Red Wing has been among the trio of finalists since Sergei Fedorov won the award in 1994.
Fedorov was the fourth Red Wings' player to win the Hart, joining Ebbie Goodfellow (1940), Sid Abel ('49), and Gordie Howe ('52, '53, '57, '58, '60, '63).
As word of Datsyuk’s nomination seeped through the Red Wings’ locker room on Wednesday, his teammates were clearly thankful that he has finally beginning to gain recognition for what he does on the ice.
“He’s been one of the best players in the league for a few years now,” Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterebrg said. “And I think it’s about time that he gets the nomination. He has improved his game even more this year, and I really hope that he wins.”
When told of Wednesday’s nomination, Red Wings vice president and assistant general manager Jim Nill was visibly elated.
“Wow … Sometimes you feel that he isn’t getting the recognition that he deserves,” Nill said. “Finally. He deserves it as much as anyone. He’s finally getting the recognition that he deserves. He deserves it.”
Datsyuk finished the regular-season by leading the Red Wings with 97-points, matching his point production for the 2007-08 season.
“He was our best player through the whole year,” Red Wings forward Marian Hossa said, “and he proved that night by night. Some things that he did were unbelievable and it was just fun to watch him. Also, it’s fun to watch how hard he works on both ends of the ice. He’s so good that he has to be the best all-around player on both ends of the ice with stealing the puck, so I think he deserves to be there.”
While superstars like Ovechkin, Malkin and Sidney Crosby seem to garner much of the media attention, Datsyuk doesn’t make waves and plays within the Red Wings’ system.
“Sometimes you’re a product of your environment,” Nill said. “This year our team is so good that one night it’s Datsyuk, and the next night it’s Zetterburg, one night it’s (Nicklas) Lidstrom. And it goes on and on. And some of these other teams, it’s Malkin and Crosby and that’s kind of their team.
“Here it’s Hossa one night, it’s Zetterburg, it’s Datsyuk, it’s Lidstrom it’s (Jiri) Hudler, and it’s (Valtteri) Filppula. It goes on and on.”
Datsyuk became just the second NHL player to capture both the Selke and Lady Byng awards last season, following Pittsburgh's Ron Francis (1995). He could become the first player to sweep them in consecutive years. He ranked second among NHL players in takeaways with 89, placed third in plus-minus rating (+34), and won 56 percent of his face-offs.
“I think he’s earned it,” Nill said. “I think he’s worked hard to make himself a better player. Was he the player he is now the player he was four years ago? No. If you watch practice you understand why he’s gotten better. He’s always had the skills. He’s taken it to another level, because of his hard work. Personally, I had great satisfaction knowing that this was a kid that was a complement to the organization.”
Unlike so many talented players throughout the league, Datsyuk wasn’t a very well-known commodity as a young player in Russia. The extra work that the Wings did in scouting him prior to the 1998 draft resulted in a sixth-round bonanza.
“I think that sometimes a player doesn’t get enough credit,” Nill said. “He’s the one doing the hard work. The coach has done a good job, the minor league had done a good job, our trainers have done a good job. It’s the total package. (Scouting) is the foundation. It’s great that we found him. A tip of our hat that way. It’s great satisfaction. “
For Nill, Datsyuk’s improvements from his first NHL game to now are plenty. But what areas has he shown the greatest upgrade?
“His play away from the puck and how physical he is,” Nill said. “You try to knock him off the puck, it’s not happening. But he could knock you off the puck. He’s very deceptive.”
Datsyuk’s teammates will also admit that he’s got a healthy sense of humor.
“He doesn’t talk much, but once he gets comfortable around you he starts talking and he starts joking,” said Hossa, who sits next to Datsyuk in the Wings’ locker room. “He’s got some good jokes – some in English, some Russian.
“I speak a little bit of Russian, so sometimes he tells me jokes in Russian and it takes me a couple of seconds. He’s a pretty funny guy. He’s got some good ones.”